Did the Jesuits intend to found a law school in 1870?

This is the second post in Senior English and History major Erik Berner’s series on his research into the Legislation division of the original St. Ignatius College library catalog this semester.

First annual banquet of the Lincoln College of Law, St. Ignatius College. Held at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on February 12, 1909. Collection of Loyola University Chicago Archives and Special Collections.

First annual banquet of the Lincoln College of Law, St. Ignatius College. Held at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on February 12, 1909. Students at Loyola had to wait nearly forty years after the 1870 founding for a law school. Collection of Loyola University Chicago Archives and Special Collections.

So far, based on my research, I believe that upon the establishment of St. Ignatius College in 1870, the Jesuits had no intention of establishing what we would call today a law school. In order to understand why this is, I had to delve into the history of legal education in the United States. Key to my conclusion about the Jesuits initial intentions are three major threads: the state of law education prior to 1870 (both the year Loyola was founded and the year that marked the start of Harvard Law School’s method of “modern” legal education), the subsequent development of more modern and professionalized modes of legal education, and the history of Loyola’s own law school (which was eventually founded in 1908). The parallel founding of a law school at fellow Jesuit university Marquette in Milwaukee can help us conjecture the purposes of Loyola’s law school when it was finally established.

Prior to 1870, law schools as we know them know, as entities affiliated with universities, were very few. The major method of legal education was through the apprenticeship system, which often produced lawyers of dubious quality. Apprentice standards and reading lists were far from standardized and bar admission officers were often more concerned with granting favors to their friends than with the quality of the lawyers they admitted to the bar. Supplementing this were some startup law schools of various educational methods not associated with universities and not required for admittance to the bar, as well as lectureships on legal issues at established colleges and universities that often served more to prepare students to proverbially “not sound like an idiot” when talking about law than to actually train lawyers. It was in 1870 that Christopher Columbus Langdell instituted his influential case method of instruction at Harvard, revitalizing the professional school within the university with a new pedagogical approach devoted to the production of lawyers trained on case precedents in the classroom rather than in the courtroom.

Reactions to, and variations of, this mode would be integral in the subsequent founding of many other law schools around the country. Some were founded with the intention of being part of a university while others would later be subsumed by one. While St. Louis University’s law school dated back to 1843 and Georgetown launched its law school in 1870, the Jesuits in Chicago appear to have been focused on liberal arts education instead. It is likely that their collection of secular and canon law was more for their own philosophical and educational use; Jesuits are notorious for their desire to learn everything about everything, and teach it as well.

The next question that I would ask about Loyola’s law school, founded when St Ignatius College became Loyola University in 1908, is what caused the Jesuits to wish to create it then? It is helpful to look to the north. The Jesuits were doing the same thing at the same time in Milwaukee. In 1908, Marquette also became a university, with a law school being established. Both Loyola and Marquette’s schools were primarily night schools at first. According to Hugh C. MacGill and R. Kent Newmyer, Marquette’s law school was established to give often poor ethnic Catholics from Milwaukee a legal education (albeit, one that was viewed less favorably by the Anglo establishment) which was refused to them by the rural University of Wisconsin. The next step in my research about the history of Loyola’s law school will be to decide whether I think the same dynamic was happening in Chicago, in reaction to different influential Anglo-Protestant schools, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Complicating Loyola’s perceived parallel to Marquette is the existence of the Illinois College of Law at the time, which would, in 1912, be subsumed by DePaul. I hope to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the two by the time I am done with my research.

Want to learn more? Helpful readings include Robert Bocking Stevens’s Law School: Legal Education in America from the 1850s to the 1980s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983) and Hugh C. MacGill and R. Kent Newmyer’s essay, “Legal Education and Legal Thought, 1790-1920,” in the Cambridge History of Law in America Volume 2: The Long Nineteenth Century (1789–1920) ed. Michael Grossberg and Christopher L. Tomlins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 36-67. You can also find a short timeline history of the Loyola School of Law here.


5 thoughts on “Did the Jesuits intend to found a law school in 1870?

  1. John Breen, Loyola Law school professor, is currently writing a book on the history of Catholic Law schools in America. He might be a valuable resource for your work.

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