History of the Law Library

The Judge John White Brockenbrough's Lexington School of Law opened in 1849 with a one-man faculty, no campus, no building, and no library. In the early 1870s, after the law school became an integral part of Washington and Lee University, the faculty still complained that "there is absolutely no law library here." Though its origins are unrecorded, by 1881 a separate law library existed to which additions were made each year. Philadelphia attorney Vincent L. Bradford made annual monetary donations for the purchase of books during the 1880s and 1890s. In the 1890s, New York attorney Dudley Field donated 1,200 treatise volumes to the collection. 

In the early 1900s, three events hastened the growth of the library in size and importance: the erection of Tucker Memorial Hall, the first building devoted entirely to the School of Law; the adoption of the case method which required constant reference to law library materials; and a gift from Vincent Bradford upon his death consisting of his 1,000 volume law library collection and an annuity "for the maintenance and increase of the library." In gratitude of Bradford's gift, the library was named the Vincent L. Bradford Law Library and electric lights were installed. By 1906, the library was open 24 hours a day; a tradition that continues today.   

On December 16, 1934, Tucker Memorial Hall was destroyed by a fire that consumed all 11,000 volumes within the Bradford Library. Immediately plans were made to replace the law school building with a modern structure in harmony with the architectural pattern of the Washington College group. The new Tucker Hall opened February 16, 1936 with a library collection that was rebuilt with insurance money and a $10,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation.   

From the late 1890s until 1939, students served one year appointments as law librarians. When Assistant Professor Theodore Allyn Smedley became the first non-student law librarian in 1939, he found himself in charge of a library which fulfilled "in every respect the requirements prescribed the by the Association of American Law Schools for member schools."   

World War II all but emptied the W&L School of Law; only a handful of faculty and students remained. They met in other buildings on campus while Tucker Hall was used as the Army's Special Services training quarters. The law school returned to its Tucker Hall home in 1946. After the war, the reading room of the library was expanded and a supplemental reading room was constructed. Additional library space was added throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  

In 1976, the law school moved into Sydney Lewis Hall which provided the library with greatly expanded and improved facilities, including a separate faculty library, a rare book room, and a new audio-visual media center. In May 1977, the library was dedicated and named the Wilbur C. Hall Law Library after the alumnus and law school benefactor who donated the funds to establish the new audio-visual center.

Lewis Hall was expanded in 1992 to house the generous gift from alumnus Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. of his professional and personal papers and to keep pace with demand for additional faculty offices and clinical space. This addition included an expanded Main Reading Room and created the Archives, where the Powell Papers are housed, and related office and study space. Recent changes to the Wilbur C. Hall Law Library include a dismantling of the faculty library to make room for additional faculty offices and seminar rooms; a systematic weeding of the collection to make space for the future collection growth and to address the evolution of legal education and scholarship; and the implementation of compact shelving to maximize space on level 2. Renovations to the Library in 2014 and 2015 created group study rooms, additional common study areas, and more accessible law librarian and departmental offices.  

Washington and Lee University School of Law Librarians

1897-1939: Student librarians serving 1 year appointments

1939-1942: Theodore Allyn Smedley, A.B., J.D.

1947-1949: Catherine McDowell

1949-1952: Wanda Lee Spears, A.B., LL.B.

1952-1957: Erson McGruder Faris, B.S., LL.B.

1953-1954: Faris and James William Horne Stewart, B.S., LL.B.

1957-1958: James William Horne Stewart, A.B., LL.B.

1958-1972: Louise Pendleton Moore, A.B.

1967-1968: Jill Perry Huntley, A.B.

1972-1978: Peyton Ring Neal, Jr., B.S., J.D.

1978-2009: Sarah K. Wiant, B.A., M.L.S., J.D.

2009-2018: Caroline L. Osborne, B.A., M.S.L.S., J.D., LL.M.  

2018-2018: Paul Rollins, B.A., J.D. (interim)

2018-2021: Alex Zhang, B.A., M.A., J.D., M.S.I.

2021-2022: David C. Baluarte, B.A., J.D. (interim)

2022-present: Michelle T. Cosby, B.A., J.D., M.L.S.

Law Library Volume Count

Year               Volume Count

1906              4,000

1920              5,000

1925              7,000

1934              1,000

1940              13,000

1946              15,000

1950              20,000

1962              30,000

1969              40,000

1971              50,000

1972              70,000

1974              85,000

1975              100,000

1976              150,000

1979              200,000

1992              293,000

1996              340,000

2002              403,000

2008              438,000

2017              496,000

2020              502,000

Law Library Annual Reports