From its inception in 1874, to its closure during World War II when most students enlisted in the military, to its rise as one of the nation’s top law schools, Vanderbilt Law School has an interesting history. Vanderbilt Law School: Aspirations and Realities, by D. Don Welch, is the first book-length history to tell the law school’s compelling story.
Welch’s book, which has been released by Vanderbilt University Press, traces Vanderbilt Law School’s history from its founding in as one of Vanderbilt University’s first two departments (the other became Vanderbilt Medical School) to the present.
Author D. Don Welch, who is Associate Dean for Administration at the law school, professor of law, and an expert on the intersection of law and ethics, joined the faculty and administration in 1984, and has thus experienced nearly a fifth of the law school’s history first-hand. He became interested in writing a history of Vanderbilt Law School after Mary Moody Wade, the wife of former Dean John Wade, delivered a box of Wade’s personal papers to his office after Wade’s death. Wade, who joined the faculty in 1947 and served as Dean from 1952-72, had played an important role in positioning the law school to achieve national prominence as a scholarly institution.
Welch’s history frankly acknowledges Vanderbilt’s early struggles, but the book also emphasizes Vanderbilt’s numerous contributions to legal education as the first private law school in the South to integrate in 1956, the school that published the influential Race Relations Law Reporter during the civil rights era from 1956 to 1968, and a school that became a leader in incorporating ethical training into the legal curriculum in the 1960s and 1970s. To research the book, Welch “spent all day every day for five months” in Vanderbilt’s archives, researching university and law school records and the correspondence of former deans, faculty members and administrators.
Welch’s book divides the law school’s history into three periods: Its inception in 1874 through 1900; the period from 1900 through World War II, when the school struggled to survive; and the period after World War II, when the school evolved into a highly respected academic institution of national stature. The book’s first section is a reprint of “Vanderbilt Law School in the Nineteenth Century: Its Creation and Formative Years,” which was originally published in the Vanderbilt Law Review and co-authored with another member of Vanderbilt law faculty, Jon Bruce.
“Vanderbilt Law School: Aspirations and Realities is not only the first book-length history of Vanderbilt Law School,” Edward L. Rubin, Dean and John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law, said, “but it also includes new information about Vanderbilt University and about the history of legal education in the South. I congratulate Don on the publication of this thorough, well-researched history, which truly illuminates the many ways in which Vanderbilt Law School has contributed to the legal profession and legal scholarship nationally and regionally.”
Vanderbilt University Law School is located on the Vanderbilt University campus in Nashville, Tennessee, and currently has approximately 630 students in its J.D., LL.M. and Ph.D in Law & Economics programs.