Faculty Directory

Mary Sarah Bilder

Founders Professor of Law

Profile

Mary Sarah Bilder teaches at Boston College Law School in the areas of property, trusts and estates, and American legal and constitutional history. In 2016, she was named the Founders Professor of Law. Her recent scholarship focuses on the early history of the Constitution: the concept of a Framing Generation; Native Nations and the 1787 Constitution; the early constitutional status of women; written constitutionalism as a new genre; James Madison's Notes of the Convention; the history of judicial review; and colonial and founding era constitutionalism.

Bilder is the author of three books. The first, Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention (Harvard University Press), was awarded the 2016 Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy and the James C. Bradford Prize for Biography from the Society for Historians of the Early Republic. It was also named a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize. The second, The Transatlantic Constitution: Colonial Legal Culture and the Empire (Harvard University Press), received the Littleton-Griswold Award from the American Historical Association. Her most recent book, Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution (University of Virginia Press), is based on the life and constitutional influence of Elizabeth Harriot Barons O'Connor, a female lecturer and educator in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787.

She has published numerous articles in the Yale Law JournalStanford Law ReviewYale Journal of Law and the HumanitiesGeorge Washington Law ReviewLaw and History ReviewLaw Library Journal, and Journal of Policy History. Recently, she co-authored an article on the library of Robert Morris, an important African American lawyer and civil rights activist. Her most recent essay on the founding period appears in With Liberty and Justice for All? The Constitution in the Classroom (2022), designed for secondary and college level American history courses. She is currently working on a larger project, The Framing Generation: The People, the Constitution, and Washington and a smaller project about Catharine Macaulay and the challenges facing the female constitutional historian. 

Bilder's scholarship and expertise have been featured on the History Channel, Q & A, Documentary Group for the Constitution Project, and in the Annenberg Classroom videos “Magna Carta and the Constitution” and “The Supremacy Clause: McCullouch v. Maryland”. She has spoken at the National Archives, Library of Congress, National Constitution Center, Museum of the American Revolution, Huntington Library, Mount Vernon, and Montpelier. She has also served as a legal history consultant to Steven Spielberg on Amistad.

An occasional blog and op-ed author, Bilder wrote a renowned blog entry on how to teach the rule against perpetuities in one class hour and co-edited Blackstone in America: Selected Essays of Kathryn Preyer. She is also the co-author of Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies, a two-part prize-winning database and print publication.

She is a member of the American Law Institute, Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Historical Society, Massachusetts Bar Association (inactive status) and State Bar of Wisconsin (inactive status); a fellow of the American Bar Foundation and American Antiquarian Society; Literary Director of the Ames Foundation; and a board member of Law and History ReviewThe Journal of Legal Education, and The New England Quarterly. From 2013-2019, Bilder served on the bipartisan Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Judicial Nominations.

Since joining Boston College in 1994, Bilder has received the Emil Slizewski Faculty Teaching Award twice and been named the Michael and Helen Lee Distinguished Scholar. She has been awarded the Boston College Annual Prize for Scholarship and the Boston College Distinguished Research Award, and named a Boston College Law School Fund Scholar. Her work has been funded by a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and a William Nelson Cromwell Foundation grant. In 2001, she was the Lucy G. Moses Visiting Professor at Columbia Law School. She was also a visiting professor at Harvard Law School in the spring of 2008 and its Mount Vernon Distinguished Visiting Lecturer of American History in 2018.

Bilder received her B.A. with Honors (English) and the Dean’s Prize from the University of Wisconsin Madison, her J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard University, and her A.M. (history) and Ph.D. from Harvard University in the history of American civilization/American studies. She was a law clerk to the Hon. Francis Murnaghan, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.