Howard University

HUSL 140th Anniversary-History

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Howard University School of Law opened its doors in 1869 during a time of dramatic change in the United States. There was a great need to train lawyers who would have a strong commitment to helping black Americans secure and protect their newly established rights. In those days, the law school did not have classrooms, at least not the way we know them today. The students (there were six in the first class) met at night in the homes and offices of the faculty, all of whom were part-time. In time, the law school grew, as did the student body and faculty. The school grew not only in size, but also in the depth of its curriculum and in the outreach of its programs. In the 20th century, it became not only a school, but also the embodiment of legal activism. It emerged as a “clinic” on justice and injustice in America, as well as a clearinghouse for information on the civil rights struggle. Our law school and its alumni have fulfilled their mission as agents for social change continuously for more than 133 years. Howard University School of Law started as Howard University Law Department on January 6, 1869 under the leadership of Professor John Mercer Langston. In 1870, Langston was appointed dean. The department opened with six students, and increased to twenty-two by the close of the session on June 30, 1869.

Initially, two years were required for the LL.B. degree. Ten of the two year students graduated on February 3, 1871 - eight of whom were admitted to practice in the District of Columbia on the following day. The school officially extended its requirements for graduation from two years to three years in 1877-1878. The new three year program began in 1900.

During this fledgling period, classes were held three nights a week in the homes and offices of the four instructors. Arrangements were later made for the department to use a room in the Second National Bank at 509 Seventh Street, N.W. Classes were later held in the Lincoln Hall building on Ninth and D Street, N.W., until December 5, 1886, when the building was destroyed by fire. Classes then moved to a room located at Seventh and E Street, N.W. On June 23, 1887, the University purchased a house at 420 Fifth Street, N.W., which served as the sight of the law school until it was moved to the main campus in 1936. In 1974, the school purchased the Dunbarton College at 2900 Van Ness Street, N.W.; its current location.

In 1931, the School of Law was accredited by the American Bar Association, (ABA), and in the same year the school was granted membership in the Association of American Law Schools, (AALS). Today, Howard School of Law confers an average of 185 Jurist Doctorate and Master of Law degrees annually to students from the United States and countries in South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. It has a faculty of approximately 50 full-time and adjunct professors. From its humble beginnings, the school has grown in size, structure and stature under the leadership of its deans. Among the more nationally noted are Charles Hamilton Houston, 1930-1935; William Henry Hastie, 1939-1946; James M. Nabrit, 1958-1960; Spotswood Robinson III, 1960-1963; and Wiley A. Branton, Sr., 1978-1983.


John M. Langston  
William Bascom   1875-1877
John H. Cook   1877-1878
Richard T. Greener   1878-1880
Warren C. Stone   1880-1881
Benjamin F. Leighton   1882-1921
Mason N. Richardson   1921
Fenton W. Booth   1922-1930
Charles H. Houston   1930-1935
William H. Hastie   1939-1946
George M. Johnson   1946-1958
James M. Nabrit, Jr.   1958-1960
Spottswood W. Robinson III   1960-1963
C. Clyde Ferguson, Jr.   1963-1969
Patricia Roberts Harris   1969
Paul E. Miller   1970-1972
Charles T. Duncan   1974-1977
Wiley A. Branton   1978-1983
John T. Baker   1985-1986
J. Clay Smith Jr.   1986-1988
Henry Ramsey, Jr.
Alice Gresham Bullock   1997-2002
Kurt L. Schmoke   2002-present
Acting and Interim Deans
William E. Taylor (Acting)   1935-1939
Leon Andrew Ransom (Acting)   1941-1943
James A. Washington Jr. (Acting)   1969-1970
Herbert O. Reid, Sr. (Acting)   1972-1974
Oliver Morse (Acting)   1983-1985
Daniel O. Bernstine (Interim)   1988-1990
Alice Gresham Bullock (Acting)   1990
Alice Gresham Bullock (Interim)   1996-1997
Patricia M. Worthy (Interim)   2002


updated: February 19, 2009