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University of Iowa News Release


May 26, 2011

Iowa College of Law publishes its first history

The University of Iowa College of Law has existed at least in theory since before Iowa was even a state. In its 1845 legislation creating the University of Iowa, the territorial legislature said the institution should also include a law school at some point.

But no complete history of the law school's first 140-plus years has been undertaken, until now. The book, "The History of the Iowa Law School: 1865-2010," is a detailed academic history of the school dating back to its earliest days.

"The Iowa law school has had a long history during which a talented faculty and a challenging curriculum produced outstanding lawyers and leaders for the state of Iowa and around the country. We want to tell those stories about the law school that are both informative and inspirational," said N. William Hines, law professor and dean emeritus who edited the book and wrote one-third of the chapters.

Though imagined in 1845, the university didn't actually have a law school until 1868, when it absorbed the independent Iowa Law School that had been operating in Des Moines for three years. Like all schools at the time, it started as a one-year undergraduate program , became a two-year program in 1884 and a three-year graduate-level program in 1901.

From its earliest days, the law school played a significant role in the life of the university, the state and the nation. Mary Beth Hickey became the first woman law graduate west of the Mississippi when she received her Iowa law degree in 1873. The school graduated UI's first African-American student in 1879, when Alexander Clark, Jr. received his Iowa law degree and became the second African–American to graduate from a public law school in the U.S.

The Iowa law school produced many UI leaders, faculty-turned-presidents Eugene Gilmore and Willard "Sandy" Boyd, and law alumnus president Virgil Hancher. It was also led by such legendary deans as William G. Hammond, Emlin McClain, Henry Craig Jones, Mason Ladd and Wiley Rutledge, who went on to become an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

"The law school has always played an outsized role in university leadership. It is unusual for a law school to have that kind of an influence on a university campus for so many years," said Hines.

The history project was begun by law professor Alan Widiss in 1995, who shepherded it until his death in 2001. Hines took over the project from there and brought it to completion. The book's fifteen chapters are divided chronologically and by program, with different authors writing different sections. Among its authors are law professors Hines, Boyd, Randall Bezanson and the late Sam Fahr. Clinical Professor Emeritus Patricia Acton and her husband, the late Richard, Lord Acton, an historian and member of the British House of Lords, wrote about the school's first 75 years. John Ferren, a judge and Rutledge biographer, wrote about the law school under Rutledge's deanship.

Two chapters are written by law school administrators and two chapters are based on seminar papers written by the authors when they were law students.

"It's an eclectic group of writers who bring unique perspectives to their work," Hines said. "The diversity of the chapter authors says a lot about what is special about the institution."

He said one theme throughout the book is the law school's consistent reputation as a national leader in legal education, which goes back well into the 19th century, as well as its insistence on doing things the "Iowa way."

"The Iowa law school has always been very conscious about being true to our Iowa heritage," he said. "We are always well informed about what other schools are doing, and about current educational fads. But we've always had this firm belief that we know how to provide a superior legal education, and don't need to copy what others are doing, if we think what we are doing works better for our students."

"The History of the Iowa Law School" is available for $19.99 and can be purchased online from the UI Bookstore at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),