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History

ebrief enewsletter

The purpose of the Boston College Law School is to prepare young men and women of intelligence, industry and character, for careers of public service in the administration of justice,—and to equip them for positions of leadership in advancing the ideals of justice in our democratic society.” Boston College Law School Bulletin, 1943

Boston College Law School held its first classes, appropriately enough, in the Lawyer’s Building, an 11-story structure at 11 Beacon St. in Boston. Just steps from the courts and the Statehouse, the location, as well as the quality of the incoming class, were promising. Dean Dennis Dooley’s well-planned recruitment campaign, which highlighted the Law School’s purpose and standards, had been a success. Nearly 700 prospective students vied for a seat in the Law School’s inaugural class.

That fall morning—it was September 26, 1929—the 54 students who had been admitted to the day school might have gathered in the smoking and assembly room before Professor William J. O’Keefe began his 9 a.m. class. Boston College had decided to rent space—enough for two classrooms, a library, and offices—for $7,500 per year on the third floor of the Lawyer’s Building, a new and prestigious address, as it continued planning for a million-dollar downtown graduate education center.

As Todd F. Simon, BC Law ‘80, points out in his history, Boston College Law School After Fifty Years: An Informal History, 1929-1979, “Generations of law students may be thankful for the university’s urgency” in establishing the Law School that year. While a law school had been planned since the very beginnings of Boston College, which was founded in 1863, the university’s leaders had only begun planning in earnest in 1928; a booming economy was a major factor in the timing of the opening, and the October, 1929 crash of the stock market--less than a month after the law school’s first class--was unforeseen. “The Law School might has easily have been scheduled to open in the fall of 1930 rather than 1929,” Simon writes. “It is all but certain that, although scheduled, the Law School would not have opened a year later.”

Yet the economic boom that preceded the great crash was not the only factor in opening the school; Boston College alumni strongly backed the formation of a law school to give alums an alternative to Harvard and Boston universities, the only American Bar Association accredited schools in Massachusetts at the time. And when the crash came, few students dropped out, Simon reports, “primarily because Dean Dooley [BC ’12] and Fr. Creeden [Rev. John B. Creeden, SJ, dean of the Boston College Graduate School] took extraordinary steps to keep them. The original, two-step payment plan was replaced [tuition was $200], among many students at least, by a pay-as-you-can plan. So long as a student could pay a little, he was allowed to stay.”

That kind of support kept students enrolled. Another safety net ensured students for the Law School: Boston College also had begun a separate, self-supporting extension school with a two-year law school preparatory program. “The extra income from the extension school helped keep the Law School open during its most trying times,” Simon reports.

The Law School grew to need more and more space in the Lawyer’s Building every year, eventually expanding beyond the building’s third floor. The extra space helped fulfill the American Bar Association requirements for accreditation, which included increasing the number of volumes in its library. Boston College Law School became the first law school in the country to receive ABA accreditation–granted in December, 1932—within three years of admitting its first students.

With enrollment at more than 350 students, the Law School moved to 441 Stuart St., the New England Power Building, in August, 1937. The Law School renovated the building’s second floor to create classrooms and a library, all designed for legal education. With the move came admission to the American Association of Law Schools; the library’s collection had been bolstered to the required 10,000 volumes and the upgrade in space aided in meeting the strict qualifications.

Simon’s history of BC Law quotes from the AALS inspector’s report: “These quarters are about as desirable as could be provided in an office building,” AALS Secretary-Treasurer Herschel W. Arant wrote. “They are, of course, not nearly as satisfactory as would be a building specially constructed for a law school’s use.”

Although such a building eventually would be constructed— St. Thomas More Hall on Boston College’s main Chestnut Hill campus—the law school would have to survive more difficulties before that dream could be realized. Boston College scrapped its plans for the downtown graduate center plan and closed the extension school. The Law School continued to enroll high numbers of students, first admitting women in 1940, but the onset of World War II changed that. The day school was essentially closed, and students were absorbed into the night school, which had been part of BC Law since its 1929 beginnings. Faculty, too, served in the war. Professor William O’Keefe, serving as acting dean, told students classes would continue to meet, even if he had to hold them at his home. Instead, the Law School moved again in late 1945, with a week’s notice, this time downsizing to smaller space at 18 Tremont St. in the Kimball Building, in the old Scollay Square.

The Law School graduated just six students in June, 1945, but in September, with the war over, enrollment swelled to 250. The Kimball building clearly would not suit the Law School’s long-term needs, and Rev. William J. Kenealy, SJ, the Law School’s dean, who had served as a Navy chaplain during the war, hoped to build a permanent home for the school on the Chestnut Hill campus. Drawings by the architectural firm Maginnis and Walsh show a large Gothic-style building, with a central tower, that was to be located between St. Mary’s Hall and the then-Philomatheia Hall, now a student residence. In the meantime, the ABA’s inspector put Fr. Kenealy on notice that new quarters were desperately needed, as Todd Simon writes in his history. Fr. Kenealy appealed to University President Rev. William L. Keleher, SJ: “We are located in an old and shabby office building, the tone of which is appropriately set by a pair of signs flanking the entrance which read ‘Barbershop and Manicure Inside.’” With a new building, Kenealy wrote, “I am convinced that within a very few years we could become one of the really great law schools of the country.”

With backing from the president, Fr. Kenealy went forward with plans for a new site, on property owned by the City of Boston on Commonwealth Avenue, just east of St. Ignatius Church.

Simon tells the story this way: “The city finally agreed in 1953 to sell the property for $28,000. When the story appeared in the morning papers, Mr. and Mrs. Vincent P. Roberts [longtime university donors] decided to pay for the land purchase…After breakfast, they took a check for the entire amount to the new university president, Rev. Joseph R.N. Maxwell, SJ.”

Twenty-five years after its founding, the Law School opened what was intended to be its permanent home. Cardinal Richard J. Cushing dedicated St. Thomas More Hall on September 27, 1954. The building not only had a modern exterior, but with its library, moot court room, space for law reviews, typing rooms and student lounges, it fulfilled the needs of modern legal education, as well. Commencements were held on the small lawn in front of More, and early photos of the building show a lake between the building and St. Mary’s Hall.

Yet even More Hall could not keep up with the Law School’s growth. A $400,000 addition on the building’s south side was proposed in the mid-1960’s after the closing of the night school caused a bulge in daytime enrollment. Even though donors pledged a half-million dollars, the addition would have required the acquisition of more property; other factors, such as the decision of the then-law school dean, Rev. Robert F. Drinan, SJ, to run for U.S. Congress, and campus unrest during the Vietnam war, contributed to the move to shelve the project, Simon reports.
In August 1975, the Law School was given the opportunity to relocate to the bucolic, 40-acre campus of the Newton College of the Sacred Heart, which the university acquired the year before. Buildings inclulded Stuart House, with its central white portico; Barat House, a large brick structure that was the home of the Schrafft candy manufacturing family; stately Putnam House, said to be built for Mr. Schrafft’s mistress, and modern Kenny-Cottle library and the unique, pointed-roofed Barry Pavilion.

Boston College Law School finally had a home it could make its own—a campus big enough on which to expand and continue to meet its goals of excellence in legal education.

Renovations to the campus, including quirky Stuart House, which had dormitories on its fifth floor, to make room for larger classrooms and faculty offices, ran to $1 million. The Henry E. Foley Moot Court Room was built in Stuart House in 1980, providing a professional setting for competitions. The James W. Smith Wing, connecting Stuart House to Kenny-Cottle, was named for Professor James Warren Smith. BC ’52 and BC Law ’57, who taught from 1958 to 1982 and was “renowned for his gifted teaching of torts,” as the dedication brochure from April 28, 1984 put it.

With the support of the University, the Law School embarked in the mid-1990’s on an extensive building program. A $16.4 million, four-story law library, made of red brick to refer to Stuart and Barat Houses and taking some design elements from the Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity, was the first building block in that program. The library, which opened in 1996, provides a technologically advanced and comfortable environment for study and reserach. Highlighted by a central atrium, the library has space for not only its 400,000 volumes in print and microform formats, but Computer Assisted Learning Centers, the Brian P. Lutch Computer Center, the Fleet Legal Research Lab and rooms for group study and video and cable viewing. The formal Daniel R. Coquillette Rare Book Room, named for Professor Coquillette, who served as dean from 1985 to 1993, has as its focal point a rose-colored marble fireplace mantel that originally graced the White House and moved with the Law School to the Newton campus. The Rare Book Room also has display cabinets for exhibits on legal history.

In January, 1999, the second phase of the building program was realized. The Barry Pavilion, which once was home to the university’s Fine Arts department and stood to the east of Stuart House, was demolished to make way for the East Wing. Technological innovations in the new East Wing helped the Law School gain recognition for the computer access it gives its students. Each seat in the new building has dataports which allow students to connect to the Internet; used as a teaching tool, professors can demonstrate how to conduct electronic legal research and can illustrate computer-related legal problems.

The $12.4 million East Wing contains five classrooms, 15 faculty offices, a state-of-the-art Career Resources Center which allows students to electronically contact potential employers and interview with them in office-like settings, conference rooms, and the John J. (BC Law ’57) and Mary Daly Curtin Center for Public Interest Law, which houses student organization offices.

With the addition of the East Wing, the Law School gains a central courtyard that already serves as a gathering spot for students; the new building physically connects the Law Library with Stuart House.

From its modest beginnings, the Law School has grown not only in terms of its physical space, but has earned a national reputation of high regard. Its alumni are 12,000 strong, its entering classes as carefully selected as those initial students: each year BC Law receives thousands of applications, making the Law School among the highest in application volume nationwide. Its standards and ideals have held: to train students who will not only be good lawyers, but lead good lives.

Stuart Hall

View a timeline of some of the events that shaped the Law School through the years. More...