The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024

Release: Immediate

UI's Vandervelde featured speaker on slavery in 'free territory'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Lea Vandervelde, professor of law at the University of Iowa and an expert on legal and constitutional history and labor law, will discuss the scope and impact of slavery in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota and other areas of the United States thought of as "free territory" during a symposium Sunday, Sept. 27 in Madison, Wis.

Vandervelde will be one of three guest speakers at a symposium at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the University of Wisconsin Law Library. The session is part of Wisconsin's sesquicentennial celebration.

Vandervelde, who is currently writing a book on the Dred Scott decision of 1856, will discuss her findings on the development of conceptions of legal relationships that slavery had in the area of the United States known as the "Northwest Territories," an area north and west of the present state of Ohio.

Slavery was outlawed in the region by federal statute, but Vandervelde's research indicates that slaves were routinely brought to the area by federal officials and their families and lived there as slaves for many years.

"The current resident of these areas -- Wisconsin and Minnesota in particular -- tend to think of themselves as living in states that have a long history as non-slaveholding, very pro-freedom regions," Vandervelde says. "The region actually had a quite complicated relationship with slavery. For example, the Wisconsin territory had a small slave population prior to the Civil War, including Dred Scott and his wife Harriett, at the same time that African-Americans were trying to escape to the territory from slave states."

Other presenters for the symposium are Anthony Baker of the Pepperdine University Law School and Linda Greene of the University of Wisconsin Law School. Commentators are Thomas Russell of the University of Texas and Dylan Penningroth of Johns Hopkins University.

The symposium also coincides with the opening of a museum exhibit on "Slavery and Freedom in the Wisconsin Territory." Prepared by Vandervelde, Arthur McEvoy and Cynthia Poe of the University of Wisconsin, the exhibit will be on display at the University of Wisconsin Law School Sept. 27 to Oct. 27.

The exhibit is a sesquicentennial project of the Legal History Program of the Institute of Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School.