Category: Guest Contributors

UA Women in the Law School

As part of our series that highlights 150 years of our law school’s history, Litera Scripta welcomes this contribution celebrating UA Women in the Law School. Author Jenna M. Bedsole is a 1997 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law and works as a corporate attorney in Memphis, Tennessee. Ms. Bedsole directed and produced the documentary film titled “Stand Up and Speak Out” about 1936 UA Law graduate Nina Miglionico. As a woman, lawyer, and Italian-American, Miglionico was a pioneer in the mid-twentieth century Birmingham, Alabama legal community.


“It’s great to be first, to be ‘one,’ it’s the two, three that come after you, that’s the telling thing.” Nina Miglionico (Class of 1936)

The Students

The University opened admission to women in 1893.[1] The first known woman law student at the University of Alabama School of Law was Louella Lamar Allen in 1907. Ms. Allen was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of Alabama on June 6, 1907 and was listed as attorney of record in Williams v. Finch, 155 Ala. 399, 46 So. 645 (1908). She does not appear to have practiced long after. She passed away in 1938.[2]

Photo of Maude Kelly
Maude McLure Kelly

One year after Ms. Allen graduated, Maud McLure Kelly, who is considered Alabama’s first woman lawyer, graduated from the law school. Like many lawyers past and present, she was the daughter of an attorney. Her father, Judge McLure, presided over the Chancery Court in Anniston. Maud got a head start by reading law with her father, so it should have come as no surprise when she took the admissions test and scored well enough to be placed in the senior (second year) class. Not only did she graduate in a year, but she excelled:  she ranked 3 of 33. But admission to the bar did not come easy. Ms. Kelly was admitted to the bar in 1909 but only after the legislature, in a bitterly divided battle, passed a special bill to change the wording of the Alabama Code from “presents his diploma” to “presents his or her diploma, and is permitted to try cases.” Undeterred, Ms. Kelly practiced in Birmingham from 1908 until 1917. To make clear to others she was a lawyer, she wore a black robe and mortarboard during her practice. She knew her worth, refusing to defend a client unless she was paid in advance.  In 1914, she was admitted to argue cases before the United States Supreme Court – one of the first women in the South.[3] When her brothers were drafted to fight in World War I, she volunteered to work for the War Department.

Ultimately, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked for the Department of the Interior until 1924. She returned to Birmingham to practice.  In 1931, she retired to care for her ailing mother. Twelve years later, she moved to Montgomery to work for the Archives of Alabama as a Historical Materials Collector. Over the next several years, Ms. Kelly cared for many members of her family: after her niece died, she took care of her four children and later she moved to Talladega to live with her brother. She continued to research her ancestors until she retired in 1956.[4] Ms. Kelly died of a stroke and complications from diabetes in 1973 at age 85. Although she never married, she dated well into her seventies.[5] Ms. Kelly was a “charter member of suffrage movement led by Patti Ruffner Jacobs.”[6] She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Every year, the Alabama State Bar honors a “female attorney who has made a lasting impact on the legal profession and has been a pioneer and leader within the state” with an award named after Maud McLure Kelly.

Photo of UA Law Class of 1936.
UA Law Class of 1936

There were other women admitted to the law school, but the class of 1936 produced several powerhouse women lawyers.[7] Kathryn McDuff Rossback was among the members of that graduating class. She decided to practice because she felt limited by the Great Depression (1929-1939). She was from Tuscaloosa and practiced in Guntersville before moving, in 1937, to Washington, D.C. to work for the Department of the Treasury. She left the Treasury in 1951 after she got married and had a son. She returned to government practice in 1958 to work for the National Labor Relations Board.  She returned to Tuscaloosa in 1973.

Photo of Judge Irene Scott.
Irene Feagin Scott

Irene Feagin Scott, a Union Springs native, was a classmate of Kathryn McDuff Rossback’s. She developed an interest in the law from her uncle who was a lawyer.  Although Ms. Scott began in 1931, she paused her studies after her father died in 1932. Like her classmate, she also went to Washington, D.C., but she worked for the Internal Revenue Service’s Office of Chief Counsel. Once when asked if female attorneys faced fewer job opportunities than their classmates, she quipped, “there were no job opportunities for anyone.” She received an LLM in international and tax law from Catholic University and was ultimately appointed to the Tax Court in 1960 and reappointed in 1972. She became Senior Judge in 1982 and served until her death on April 16, 1997.[8]

Perhaps best known from that class was Nina Miglionico. Nina was born in Birmingham, Alabama to Italian immigrants.[9] She attended Birmingham City Schools and received her bachelor’s degree in Music from Howard College which later became Samford University.[10] Upon graduation, Nina had a choice: she received a scholarship to attend the University of St. Louis to further her studies in music or she could go to law school. She said she wanted to make a living, so she chose law school.[11] After law school, she looked for a job and received one job offer: for a position as a legal secretary. “That didn’t sound so hot,” she remarked and instead she opened her own law practice.[12] She and Robert Gordon shared an office so small that when a client arrived, one of them had to leave. Hers was a general practice – from family law to criminal law to civil litigation. She was a prolific speaker at local clubs about issues that particularly affected women.[13] She advocated for fairness in probate laws; she fought against the poll tax which adversely impacted women more than men; and she lobbied for the right for women to serve on juries.[14] As she did, her practice grew along with her notoriety.

Photo of Nina Miglionico and the Birmingham City Council c. 1963.
Nina Miglionico, Birmingham City Council c.1963

She ran for the state house and lost but when Birmingham voted to change its form of government – from three city commissioners to the mayor/city council, Nina threw her name in the hat.[15] Out of 75 candidates for nine city council slots, she came in third.[16] In the runoff, hate literature surfaced – spewing racial epithets and anti-Catholic bigotry.[17] She came in ninth and was the only woman elected.[18] That City Council voted to reverse the City’s segregation laws, and on December 29, 1964, appointed the first African-American, Wilbur H. Hollins, to serve on a city board.[19]

Photo of Birmingham City Council c. 1964.
Birmingham City Council

Because she and another candidate had been the lowest two vote-getters, they had to stand for re-election in two years. Again, the hate literature resurfaced during her re-election campaign. On April 1, 1965, a bomb was placed on her front doorstep. Her 80-year-old father, who was living with her at the time, heard the ticking from the box left on the porch, reached in, pulled out the timing device, and threw it on the ground.  It never detonated.[20] Nina went to work that morning – undeterred. She won overwhelmingly and continued to serve the city she loved for more than 20 years. At the age of 71, she decided not to run for re-election.[21] Miss Nina died on May 6, 2009 – the Alabama State Bar believes she was the longest serving solo practitioner in history. She was a woman of short stature and one of her city council colleagues once jested, “Never mess with a woman twice your age and half your height.”[22] The Birmingham Bar Association’s Women’s Section honors her legacy by awarding lawyers who have actively paved the way to success and advancement for women lawyers with the Nina Miglionico “Paving the Way” award.

When the Alabama Law Review was established in 1948, there were two women students who served on its first volume, Serena B. Colvin and Shirley T. Seale. In 1952, Carole Orr served as its Editor in Chief. Despite this progress, in 1951, 97 women were admitted to practice law in Alabama with 27 practicing.[23]  1.6 percent of the attorneys in Alabama were women; 98.4 percent were men.

Photo of Sue Thompson.
Sue Thompson, 1974

One of the first African American female students was Sue Thompson who earned her degree in 1974. Along with two other alumns from the law school, she founded the first Black law firm in Tuscaloosa. Thompson’s more than 40-year career has been spent advocating on behalf of low income and marginalized groups. She has been a fierce champion of local public education and has long collaborated with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund working to end desegregation in Alabama.[24]

Women students continued to thrive and following graduation, contribute to their communities. Consider Emily A. Brawner who graduated in 1949. She was a patent attorney, who moved back to Alabama from Ohio to take care of her mother. She worked at Redstone Arsenal and then later Bradley, Arant, Rose and White in 1955. She later worked for the Social Security Administration as a Claims Administrator.[25]

For the past several years, women have comprised a majority in the law school’s first year classes. Together, they share a characteristic of prior classes: “These women shared an attitude of being unaware that they couldn’t do anything they wanted to do.”[26] “They felt challenged, not intimidated.”[27] Those words described the women decades earlier but still ring true today.

The Bench

Women graduates have served as judges. For example, Phyllis Schneider Nesbit graduated in 1958 and moved to Baldwin County where she became a municipal judge for Daphne in 1964. Interestingly, she served as a judge before women were given the right to serve on juries.[28] In 1976, she was the first woman elected to serve as a trial judge in Alabama. She served Baldwin County until January of 1989.

The first woman to serve on the Alabama Supreme Court was UA alumni, Janie Ledlow Shores. Justice Shores graduated from the law school in 1959. Born in Butler County (Georgiana, Alabama), she remembered growing up picking berries and potatoes.[29] Her family later moved to Loxley, Alabama in Baldwin County. There she learned, “We were all supposed to treat others as we wanted to be treated.”[30] She graduated from high school on a Friday in April of 1950, packed her bags, and boarded a bus to Mobile to look for a job. The very next day, she interviewed with Vincent F. Kilborn, a prominent lawyer who hired her as his legal secretary. She credited Mr. Kilborn for planting the seed to further her education – one day he told her “You have an uncanny feel for the law. You ought to go to law school.”[31]  In 1953, she married Bill Ellzey and moved to Selma. While in Selma, she took classes towards her undergraduate degree. She vividly remembered that when Brown v. Board of Education was rendered. Her father-in-law gave her an ultimatum:  join the White Citizens Council or she would no longer be part of the family.[32] She left the family the next day.[33]

Thereafter, she enrolled in the University of Alabama in a program that permitted her to finish her undergraduate degree and later attend law school. Ultimately, she received her undergraduate degree from Samford University. In law school, she was known for her summaries which were handed down from year to year. Reflecting upon her time in law school, Justice Shores stated she did not feel discriminated against because she was female.[34]

She graduated at the top of her law class, but due to her gender, no law firm would hire her.[35] Instead, she served as a judicial law clerk for Alabama Supreme Court Justice Robert T. Simpson. During her clerkship, she found she liked the work of a judge.[36] After working for Justice Simpson, she accepted a position as an in-house lawyer with Liberty National Life Insurance Company.[37] In 1962, she married Jim Shores, a lawyer in Tuscaloosa. Her daughter was born two years later.[38] She joined the Cumberland Law School faculty in 1964 as its first female professor, a position she held for eleven years.[39] The Dean of the Law School bragged she was the first female law professor east of the Mississippi.[40]

Photo of Howell Heflin and Janie Shores, 1974.
Chief Justice Howell Heflin swearing-in Janie Shores, 1974

In 1972, she ran for an associate justice position but was defeated in a runoff. In 1974, she ran again. That time, she won.[41] When she won, she became the first woman ever elected to a state supreme court position and only the third woman to serve on a state supreme court in the nation.  When asked why she ran, Justice Shores joked, “…The governor missed three chances to appoint me so I decided if I was ever going to get there I had to run for it.”[42] She decided not to run again in 1998.[43]

President Bill Clinton considered Justice Shores for nomination to the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately, that nomination went to Ruth Bader Ginsberg.[44] Justice Shores died on August 9, 2017. She was 85.[45] She once said, “I didn’t want to be the best woman lawyer in the State of Alabama. I wanted to be the best lawyer there was. So I feel that and maybe most women would tell you that women lawyers or women executives of any sort, they feel that they cannot afford to make any mistakes…I always prepared. Not just prepared, I was beyond prepared.”[46] The Alabama Law Foundation awards a scholarship in Justice Shores’ honor to a female law student and the Litigation Counsel of America awards the Janie L. Shores Trailblazer Award as well.

The Faculty

Photo of Marjorie Fine Knowles.
Marjorie Fine Knowles

Marjorie Fine Knowles was born in 1939 in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Smith College where she received her undergraduate degree and received an LLB in 1965 from Harvard Law School. She was admitted to practice law in New York in 1966 and in Alabama in 1975. Later, in 1978, she became a member of the bar of the District of Columbia. Ms. Knowles became an Associate Professor at the law school from 1972-1975 – its first female faculty member. She taught evidence, sports law, conflicts and sex-based discrimination. She took a two-year leave of absence after President Carter appointed her to serve as the first statutory Inspector General for the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. She returned to the law school in 1980 and in 1982 became the Associate Dean. Four years later, in 1986, she left Alabama to become Dean and Professor at Georgia State Law School where she served until 1991.[47] She was the first female law school dean in Georgia and the second dean in the school’s history.[48] She resigned at the end of the 1990-91 year.[49]

Dean Knowles died on September 24, 2021 at her home in Atlanta.[50] Dean Mark Brandon remarked about Professor Fine Knowles’ time at the law school, “Her most important contributions, however, were to the causes of civil rights and especially the status of women.” He added, “She helped to change the face and culture of the Law School, as the number of women studying law here increased almost six-fold.”[51]

Camille Cook was born in 1924 and she came from a family of lawyers. Both her father, Judge Ruben Wright of Tuscaloosa, and aunt, Inez Duke Searcy, were lawyers. Aunt Searcy graduated from the law school in 1929. Her brother and children became lawyers. Becoming a lawyer did not seem like an odd career for women to her; her entire immediate family for three generations had either been lawyers or had married them.

Mrs. Cook began law school during World War II – classes were held in professors’ offices because there were only 12 other students. In 1947, she graduated and one year later, she married fellow student Sydney Cook and moved to Auburn in 1948.

Photo of Camille Cook, Nathaniel Hansford, Daniel Meador and Rufus Bealle.
Nathaniel Hansford, Camille Cook, Daniel Meador, and Rufus Bealle, c. 1989

In 1971, Governor Wallace appointed her to serve on the Alabama Air Pollution Control Commission. She was the only woman selected. She taught business law at the University of Alabama for 18 years while raising four children. In 1968, she returned to the law school to serve as its Assistant Dean. There, she taught family law and children’s rights. “In 1976, she became first female tenured law faculty member.”[52] From 1972 to 1982, she worked for the Alabama Bar Institute, where she was tasked with developing a series of seminars to teach Alabama attorneys about the new Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure before their implementation in 1973. Alabama was the 10th state to require attorneys to have a certain number of CLE credits yearly.

She served for 6 years as a member of the Smithsonian Council in Washington from 1972-1978.[53]  In 1991, she received the Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award by the National Alumni Association, the University’s highest honor for teaching excellence. That award “recognizes dedication to the teaching profession and the positive impact these professors have had on their students.”[54]  One student remarked “(Cook) has the ability to motivate one to wish to excel. Her high moral values serve as a standard to which we all strive to achieve.”[55] She died on February 20, 2018.[56]

When she retired from teaching in 1993, Law School Dean Nathaniel Hansford described her as “a woman of gracious wisdom and unbound spirit who has given back to the world manifold gifts.”[57] He added, “Cook was a ‘pioneer woman’ in a field which was traditionally dominated by men, she never viewed her gender as an obstacle. I once heard her remark, after dealing with a difficult male legal giant over a CLE matter, ‘the cock may crow, but it’s the hen who lays the eggs.’”[58] She also served on the Board of Directors for the Law School Foundation and the Board of Trustees of the Farrah Law Society.

One of the most beloved professors at the law school has been Pam Bucy Pierson. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she moved from one small town in Texas to the next.[59] Professor Bucy’s interest in the law came early after one of her teachers commented to the inquisitive fourth grade student, “Pam, you ask so many questions, you ought to be a lawyer.”[60] She attended Austin College in Sherman, Texas and received her law degree from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis in 1978. At the time, approximately 20 percent of the nation’s law school classes were women. In contrast, her law class at Washington University had almost 50 percent.[61]

Photograph of Pam Bucy Pierson.
Pam Bucy Pierson

During her second year of law school, she was at the top of the class and interviewed with large law firms – not one made her an offer. Instead, she clerked for a judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals that summer. When that judge was named to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, Professor Bucy clerked for him after law school graduation.[62] Following a short stint at a large law firm after her clerkship, Professor Pierson joined the Eastern District of Missouri’s U.S. Attorney’s office where she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1980-1987 in the criminal division specializing in white collar criminal fraud. She tried her first case within the first month as a prosecutor.

She and her husband stayed in St. Louis for eight years before he accepted a job in Alabama. Reluctantly, Professor Pierson left the “best job ever,” serving as a federal prosecutor, when her husband accepted a job in Alabama. She is quick to add that she is delighted she ended up in Alabama.[63] She loves the lesson that “all of the things we plan don’t work but the ones we don’t plan turn out to be great.”[64]

With the move to Alabama, she hoped to transfer to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Birmingham but there was a hiring freeze.[65] A law professor from Washington University encouraged her to reach out to law schools in the state. She did and when she joined the University’s law school, she and Camille Cook were the only two women present, as Martha Morgan was on leave. She taught criminal law, criminal procedure and white collar crime.[66] After a year at the law school, she received a call from the U.S. Attorney’s office informing her that the hiring freeze had ended. She turned them down and stayed because of her devotion to the students.[67] In particular, she enjoyed seeing them understand the concepts. She authored treatises on health care fraud and white collar crime.[68] During the Whitewater Scandal, she was often quoted by The New York Times about Ken Starr’s investigations.[69] She continues to be a legal scholar; she also spends time as of counsel to a firm with some of her former students and her son.[70] She has been delighted to serve on a non-profit that helps individuals re-enter society after serving in prison.[71]

Photograph of Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb.
Sue Bell Cobb
Homecoming photo of UA Law Class of 1931.
Eleanor Onderdonk Oakley, center, UA Law Homecoming, 1931

We celebrate the “firsts” as well we should. For example, we should celebrate women like Sue Bell Cobb who was the first woman elected to serve as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Yet, we should also celebrate the many who passed through the doors of Farrah Hall and the later law school campus who contributed to the profession, their communities, and their families. Women like Mabel Yerby Lawson who graduated in 1920 and practiced in Greensboro with her father until 1925 or Eleanor O. Oakley who graduated from law school in 1931, married a fellow classmate (Lawrence Thomas) and moved to Dothan where they opened an office together. She left after two years to raise their two kids and then returned to practice in 1965. In 1966, she became a U.S. Magistrate judge. She served as a past president of the Houston County Bar Association, and it is believed she was one of the oldest practicing attorneys in the state.[72] With the firsts, seconds and thirds who paved the way for generations of women to come, the future of the profession can only continue to be bright. We celebrate these women and their accomplishments within the legal community and outside of it.





[1] The University of Alabama admitted two women in 1893. Anna Byrne Adams earned her degree in 1895, and Bessie Jemison Parker graduated the following year in 1896. See, Thomas Waverly Palmer, A Register of the Officers and Students of the University of Alabama, 1831-1901 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1901), 370, 380.

[2] See David Krajicek, The Alabama Bench and Bar Historical Society Newsletter, Mar./April 2010,

[3] See id. (citing Maud McLure Kelly: Alabama’s First Woman Lawyer, Cynthia Newman, 1984 Samford University Research Series, paper no. 6).

[4] See id.

[5] See id.

[6]Ellen Turner, Trailblazers and Hearthkeepers: Female Law Students at the University of Alabama Before 1960, p. 5. See vertical file holdings, Special Collections, Bounds Law Library.

[7]“Women in Law in Alabama,” Elizabeth Johnson Wilbanks, The Ala. Lawyer, vol. 12 (1951), pp. 43-46. (E. Johnson, S.M. Hammond)

[8] The Washington Post, B 4, Wednesday, April 16, 1997.  [Note great framed composite in box 1  MSS.0050]

[9] See Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Oral History Project, Nina Miglionico interview, dated Sept. 26, 2003, Tape 1.

[10] See Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Oral History Project, Nina Miglionico interview, dated Sept. 26, 2003, Tape 1.

[11] See Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Oral History Project, Nina Miglionico interview, dated Sept. 26, 2003, Tape 1. When Nina’s father asked his banker for a loan to pay for the law school tuition, the banker refused. When asked to explain his denial, the banker retorted Mr. Miglionico was wasting his money because his daughter would get married and never use her degree. In response, Mr. Miglionico said, “Well, if I give her an education nobody can take it away from her. But I leave her money, somebody can take it.” A family friend who was a lawyer secured a loan for the tuition. See id.

[12]See Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Oral History Project, Nina Miglionico interview, dated Sept. 26, 2003, Tape 1.

[13] Why No Women on Juries? Not Recognized as ‘People’, Birmingham Post-Herald, July 21, 1952; Martha Alexander, Federated Clubs Intensify Drive for Jury Service, The Birmingham News, Mar. 2, 1956.

[14] Nina Miglionico New Woman of the Year, named by BPW, The Birmingham News, Oct. 12, 1963.

[15] Ivan Swift, Bar Advocates Mayor, Council, The Birmingham News, Feb. 25, 1962, p. 116.

[16]Editorial, Council Choice is Important, The Birmingham News, March 5, 1963; see also April 2 Runoff Will Decide New City Government, Birmingham Post Herald, Mar. 7, 1963.

[17] See Letter from National States’ Rights Party, Dr. Edward R. Fields, Information Director, dated January 4, 1965.

[18] Emmett Weaver, Bryan and Wiggins Lead Vote for 9 Councilmen, Birmingham Post Herald, April 3, 1963.

[19] See Regular Minutes of the Council of the City of Birmingham, May 21, 1963 at 10:00 a.m. CST; Hollins Appointed to Planning Group, The Birmingham News, December 29, 1964.

[20] See Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Oral History Project, Nina Miglionico interview, dated Sept. 26, 2003, Tape 2.

[21] Mike Williams, Miss Miglionico to Pass Up Race for Council Seat, Sept. 12, 1985, The Birmingham News, 1A.

[22] Kitty Frieden, Cunning Miss Nina Wields Might but Fair Gavel, The Birmingham News, Apr. 6, 1980.

[23] Elizabeth Johnson Wilbanks, Women in Law in Alabama, 12 The Ala. Lawyer, 43, 43-46 (1951).

[24] Capstone Lawyer, pp. 26-27 (2022).

[25] Elizabeth Johnson Wilbanks, Women in Law in Alabama, 12 The Ala. Lawyer, 43, 43-46 (1951).

[26] Ellen Turner, Trailblazers and Hearthkeepers: Female Law Students at the University of Alabama Before 1960.

[27] See id.

[28] White v. Cook, 251 F. Supp. 401, 409 (M.D. Ala. 1966).  Cf. Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975)(holding unconstitutional exclusion of women for jury service).

[29] Janie Shores, Just Call Me Janie, 9, (Anne Kent Rush ed., 1st ed. 2016).

[30] Id. at 17.

[31] Id. at 20.

[32] Id. at 39.

[33] Id. at 39.

[34] Id. at 39.

[35] Id. at pp. 44-45.

[36] Id. at 72.

[37] Id. at 45-46.

[38] Id. at 56.

[39] Id. at 30.

[40] Id. at 42.

[41] Id. at 71.

[42] Ellen Turner, Trailblazers and Hearthkeepers: Female Law Students at the University of Alabama Before 1960.

[43] Janie Shores, Just Call Me Janie, 74 (Anne Kent Rush ed., 1st ed. 2016).

[44] Id. at 212.

[45] Jay Reeves, First Female Member of the Alabama Supreme Court Dies at 85, U.S., Jay Reeves, AP.

[46] The Bedeviled Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Sept. 22, 1987).

[47] Marjorie Knowles Obituary – Sandy Springs, GA (

[48] Tuscaloosa News, Monday April 14, 1986.

[49] Deborah Spielberg, Faculty Gripe Session Preceded Knowles’ Resignation, Fulton County Daily Report, Nov. 2, 1990, p.2.

[50] Marjorie Fine Knowles, trailblazing lawyer, dies at 82 ( (last visited July 9, 2023).

[51] Litera Scripta Obituary, October 2021; Email from Dean Mark Brandon to author, October 4, 2021. The increase in women’s enrollment during one three-year period, according to Dean Knowles’ obituary, was from 13 to 70.

[52] Alabama Alumni Magazine, June-July 1996, p. 26. Vol. 76, No. 4.

[53] Alumni Newsletter, UAL, Vol. 2, No. 1, Nov. 1983.

[54] Catalog (?), Faculty/Staff News, Vol. 10, No. 14 (10/8/90).

[55] Alog/Faculty/Staff.

[56] Camille Wright Cook | University of Alabama School of Law (  (last visited July 9, 2023).

[57] ALR, Vol. 44, no. 3 (Spring 1993), “A Tribute to Professor Camille Wright Cook,” Nathaniel Hansford, p. 649 at 652.

[58] Al Lawyer.

[59] See Interview with Pam Pierson, dated Feb. 10, 2023.

[60] See id.

[61] See id.

[62] See id.

[63] See id.

[64] See id.

[65] See id.

[66] See id.

[67] See id.

 [68] Bucy, WHITE COLLAR CRIME,CASES AND MATERIALS (West 3d ed. 2004; 2d ed. 1998; 1st ed. 1992); Supplements (1994, 2000); Teacher’s Manual (1992, 1998, 2004); Bucy, FEDERAL CRIMINAL LAW AND RELATED CIVIL CAUSES OF ACTION (with Beale and Welling) (West 1998); Supplements (1999, 2000); Bucy, HEALTH CARE FRAUD: CRIMINAL, CIVIL AND ADMINISTRATIVE LAW (Law 5 Journal Seminars Press 1996) (semi-annual updates) (In 1998, joined by three authors: Robert Fabrikant, Paul Kalb and Mark Hopson, and book retitled, HEALTH CARE FRAUD, ENFORCEMENT AND COMPLIANCE).

[69] Neil A. Lewis, For Starr and Hubbell, An Accord of Sorts, New York Times, July 1, 1999, A14; Neil A. Lewis, Managers’ Airtight Case against President Developed a Flat, New York Times, February 14, 1999, 27.

[70] See Interview with Pam Pierson, dated Feb. 10, 2023.

[71] See id.

[72] “Trailblazers and Hearthkeepers: Female Law Students at the University of Alabama Before 1960,” Ellen Turner.

American Bar Association’s Diamond Jubilee 3¢ Stamp with Commemorative Cachet

Litera Scripta welcomes this post from colleague and Legal Research Librarian, Matthew Neely, who donated the Alabama American Bar Association’s Diamond Jubilee 3¢ Stamp to our collections. Matthew discovered this stamp at a local consignment shop while on vacation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

American Bar Association’s Diamond Jubilee 3¢ Stamp with Commemorative Cachet

This stamp is an American Bar Association’s Diamond Jubilee 3¢ Stamp with a commemorative cachet. A First Day Cover is an envelope bearing a stamp canceled on the date the stamp was first available for postal use.  In the United States, stamps are traditionally placed on sale at a site designated as the official First Day Post Office, often at a temporary postal substation created solely to sell the First Day stamps.Photograph of ABA envelope and stamp. Usually, a ceremony is held to dedicate the new stamp. The stamp then goes on general nationwide sale the following day. Many prominent stamp dealers and first-day cover servicers have special commemorative illustrations and captions printed on the envelopes. These commemorative illustrations are known as cachets.

On August 24, 1953, the ABA stamp was unveiled at the Statler Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. This historic event was marked with speeches, music, a radio broadcast, and a special presentation of the stamp to then ABA President, Robert Storey. The stamp’s release was momentous, warranting announcements in the New York Times News of the World of Stamps column[1] and Time Magazine.[2]

Photograph of stamp detail.The stamp depicts part of the frieze on the walls of the U.S. Supreme Court, which depicts four figures: Wisdom, Justice, Divine Inspiration, and Truth. The cachet depicts Lady Justice with her scales and shield.

Readers who wish to learn more about stamps, commemorative cachets, and stamp collecting generally can consult the Kenmore Stamp Company’s website.[3]

[1] Kent B. Stiles, NEWS OF THE WORLD OF STAMPS; American Bar Group’s Diamond Jubilee Stamp Expected in August, The New York Times, Mar. 29, 1953,

[2] THE LAW: Diamond Jubilee, Time, Sep. 07, 1953,,33009,818790,00.html.

[3] What is a First Day Cover,

A Small Reception in Westminster

The following post features an essay by 2023 UA Law graduate, Marshal Trigg, who is currently a nonprofit attorney in Washington, D.C.

Among legal historians there is a long-standing controversy over whether (or how much) of Roman law was “received” into the Common Law. Marshal Trigg’s “A Small Reception” surveys the development of Roman Law and Canon Law in the middle ages, and shows the influence of the Roman legal concepts on such innovations as Henry II’s “Assize of Novel Disseisin” and also on the works of such English jurists as Ranulf de Glanvill (d. 1190) and Henri de Bracton (1210-1268). By the 14th century, elements of Roman law had taken root in English law, notably in the development of the Court of Chancery. Chancery, in turn, was a feature of English law that was transplanted successfully to the new world.  Alabama’s Chancery Courts, for instance, were active into the twentieth century (Alabama Code of 1907, §§ 3042 ff.). That alone makes the history of “reception” part of our own legal heritage.

A Small Reception in Westminster

by Marshal Trigg

  1. Introduction

Civil law and common law jurisdictions differ in many important respects. A chief difference is the matter of inheritance: where civil law descends ultimately from the Roman legal tradition, common law is plainly derived from English tradition. Where the other nations of Europe received the Roman law, England went its own way. Still, scholars have long debated the question of a possible “reception” of Roman law in England. The question itself requires some unpacking: what constitutes “reception,” or “Roman,” or even “law”? For the purposes of this discussion, each of these terms will be considered in a broad sense. Thus, “reception” will be discussed as a matter of degree of influence, “Roman” will span the range from original Roman texts to later derivative sources such as the canon law, and “law” will encompass an expansive sweep of legal society, principles, and pedagogy. Once these definitions are applied and appropriate inquiries are conducted, it becomes clear that England underwent a reception of its own.

Goethe supposedly compared the Roman civil law to a duck: “Sometimes it is visible, swimming prominently on the surface of the water; at other times it is hidden, diving amid the depths. But always it is there.”[1] Yet if all Romans are ducks, not all ducks are Roman, and one occasionally might find a strange cryptid bobbing along the Thames. Here then, we must call on the mighty taxonomizing powers of the legal historian.

  1. Early Antecedents

Perhaps any discussion of an English reception of Rome should take care not to elide the fact that Britain, at one point in its antique past, was quite literally subject to Roman jurisdiction as an imperial province.[2] Far from some forgotten, far-flung outpost, the island was studded with prestigious Roman courts and officials, and Roman jurists of the second and third century A.D. discussed British cases.[3] Could this early acquaintance have sown the germ of a distinctly Latin legal mode surviving the subsequent displacement via Anglo-Saxon dominion? Certainly, these Germanic settlers left no Roman institution unrazed.[4] It is possible yet that the Germanic newcomers absorbed certain Roman customs and thinking from the native British. The scant written laws from the early Saxon period would seem to discourage examination, though scholars have attempted it.[5]

However, this level of speculative inference strains the bounds of our inquiry. It is enough to say that Rome made its second contact with Britain in 597 when Pope Gregory I sent St. Augustine (“the second of that name who attained to ecclesiastical celebrity”) to reintroduce Christianity to its population.[6] Consequently, the Kentish king Æthelberht and ten thousand of his subjects adopted the Roman religion.[7] In the Venerable Bede’s telling, Æthelberht shortly after set in writing the first Kentish law code juxta exempla Romanorum (“according to the Roman mode”).[8] This may appear at first a confusing observation, as the code betrayed little direct Roman influence and in truth evinced a great deal of Frankish influence instead.[9] Rather, the very fact of providing a written legal code signified in itself a dramatic step toward Romano-Christian enlightenment.[10]

Even so, a proper Romanist would find much lacking in the brief Kentish law code. A representative example is reproduced below:

  • 10: If someone lies with one of the king’s female slaves, he shall pay as compensation 50 shillings.
  • 11: If she is a corn-grinding slave, he shall pay as compensation 25 shillings. If she be of the third rank 12 shillings.[11]

Thus, the much-vaunted Code of Æthelberht could fairly be described as something like a glorified penal code resting on the vast edifice of an unwritten customary law.[12] Nevertheless, it was an important beginning. In the following centuries, the study of Roman law would be nurtured in cathedral schools like that of York.[13]

Around the year 900, Alfred the Great, King of the Anglo-Saxons, assembled many old English laws and roughly synthesized them into a Mosaic framework.[14] In a prologue, Alfred asserted a continuity bridging international church canons and secular English law: “[M]any synods assembled throughout the world… Then in many synods they ordained the penalty for many human misdeeds, and in many synod-books wrote here one regulation, there another.”[15] If the legal orientation of the developing English kingdoms had been grossly Teutonic and provincial up to this point, here it was becoming Christian and, however slightly, cosmopolitan, i.e., moving toward romanitas.

III. Of Normans and Romans

The triumph of the Normans in the Battle of Hastings in 1066 represented in many respects a significant point of departure in the English realm, not the least of these being the centralizing tendencies of Norman administration. Among many reforms, William the Conqueror wrested the ecclesiastical causes from the old Saxon hundred courts and assigned jurisdiction instead to the “canones of the catholic church” to be administered by the decidedly romish ecclesiastical courts.[16] Centralized royal courts were soon established,[17] and these courts were generally staffed by men possessing a clerical background and a grasp of Latin.[18]

Near the same time, in the latter half of the eleventh century, interesting developments were brewing on the Continent. In 1054, the Christian church was beset by a schism between its Roman and Byzantine centers.[19] Subsequently, the Western church elected to substantially aggrandize the political and legal powers of the Vatican, resulting ultimately in “the first modern Western legal system”.[20] Prior to the late eleventh century, “law” did not yet exist as a distinct body of jurisprudence plainly distinguishable from prevailing customs and institutions.[21] This state of affairs was overturned rapidly in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, significantly as a response to Pope Gregory VII’s, assertion of papal supremacy in 1075.[22] By his declaration of legal supremacy over all of Christendom, the path to a universal system of law was laid.[23] Thus the Roman Catholic Church embarked on an ambitious project to systematize its canon law as a set of ordered principles, spurring the creation of the first law schools in western Europe.[24]

Lacking much in the way of satisfactory materials, these schools drew substantially on the freshly rediscovered Digest of Justinian, the compiled laws of that sixth-century Eastern Roman emperor.[25] Knowledge of Roman law had already been available, but the Digest was set apart from other sources by virtue of being a comprehensive statement of the law.[26] Still, the bare text of the Digest did not expressly establish a general theory of law or politics.

Emperor Justinian and his court.
Emperor Justinian and his court

It was the task of the glossators, those juristic assimilators of the old Roman law, to pore over the ancient laws while extracting widely applicable principles.[27] It was in this way that the new law schools set out to reconstruct the science of the Roman law. The same sort of exegesis would come to be applied to the canon law, drawing on sources ranging from Roman law, church canons, papal curia materials, biblical scripture, and contemporary theologians.[28]

Canon law came into its own with the publication of Gratian’s Decretum near 1140, an authoritative collection of canon law compiled and glossed with the intent of reconciling apparent contradictions.[29] By the middle of the twelfth century, law students and teachers were divided into two groups, canonists, who focused their studies chiefly on the canon law, and civilians, who erred more strongly on the side of the Roman civil law.[30] Roman law, not being the positive law of any institution in medieval Europe, was often referred to as “the handmaiden of canon law”.[31] The two disciplines would remain closely connected, as civil law became “theologized” and canon law became “Romanized”.[32] This developing romano-canonical jurisprudence would come to be known as the ius commune, or “common law” of Europe.[33]


The editors of Litera Scripta are aware that we live in troubled times. At home we face political divisions more intense than any since the American Civil War. Meanwhile, across the globe, authoritarian regimes have taken a page from George Orwell and turned disinformation into an evil form of art. The editors are confident, however, that there is very little that is new under the sun. That said, we should study the past for clues to present predicaments; and one cannot do better in this regard than to study the legal history of imperial Rome. There we see the “cult of personality” carried to its highest degree, resulting in the erosion—sometimes gradual, sometimes very rapid—of freedoms that Romans had taken for granted. This erosion of rights affected the state’s legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens. Eventually it affected the state’s ability to function.

These themes are present in Hunter Myers’ “Brutus, Cassius, Judas, and Cremutius Cordus: How Shifting Precedents Allowed the Lex Maiestatis to Group Writers with Traitors.”[1] This fine work of scholarship shows how the Roman concept of Maiestas (the “majesty of the state”) developed over time. It concludes with persuasive evidence that the Emperor Tiberius[2] twisted that element of Roman law to his own advantage—in the process corrupting the Senate, the courts, and the public itself. More dramatically, Mr. Myers shows us that Tiberius presided over his own descent into corruption—in his case marked by hypersensitivity to criticism, openness to malicious prosecutions, a thirst for vengeance, and other aspects of cold-hearted paranoia.

Hunter Myers is a member of the Class of 2022, University of Alabama School of Law and the forthcoming Editor-in-Chief of the Alabama Law Review.

[1] Honors Thesis, University of Mississippi, 2018.

[2] Ruled 14-37 AD.





Hunter Myers

A thesis submitted to the faculty of The University of Mississippi in partial fulfillment

of the requirements of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

Oxford, Mississippi, May 2018

Advisor: Professor Molly Pasco-Pranger

Reader: Professor John Lobur

Reader: Professor Steven Skultety

© 2018

Hunter Ross Myers

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED                                 


Dr. Pasco-Pranger,

            For your wise advice and helpful guidance through the thesis process

Dr. Lobur & Dr. Skultety,

            For your time reading my work

My parents, Robin Myers and Tracy Myers

            For your calm nature and encouragement

Sally-McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

            For an incredible undergraduate academic experience


In either 103 or 100 B.C., Saturninus invented a concept known as Maiestas minuta populi Romani (diminution of the majesty of the Roman people) to accompany charges of perduellio (treason). Just over a century later, Tiberius used this same law to criminalize behavior and speech that he found disrespectful. This thesis offers an answer to the question as to how the maiestas law evolved during the late republic and early empire to present the threat that it did to Tiberius’ political enemies. First, the application of Roman precedent in regards to judicial decisions will be examined, as it plays a guiding role in the transformation of the law. Next, I will discuss how the law was invented in the late republic, and increasingly used for autocratic purposes. The bulk of the thesis will focus on maiestas proceedings in Tacitus’ Annales, in which a total of ten men lose their lives. The most striking trial that will be investigated is the one involving Cremutius Cordus, who praised Brutus and Cassius, referring to them as the “Last of the Romans.” However, does this make him a traitor who belongs in Dante’s ninth circle along with Brutus, Cassius, and Judas?



Roman Precedent and Exempla

The Application of Roman Precedent

Precedent in the Late Republic

Augustan Exempla

The Rewriting of Precedent under Tiberius

Inventing Maiestas

Origins of the Law – Perduellio

A Descendant of Perduellio – Maiestas

Two Test Cases: Caepio and Norbanus

From Varius to Sulla

Caesar’s Law and Motivation

Maiestas in Tacitus’ Annales

Examining Tacitus

Maiestas and Augustan Precedent in The Annales

Two Preliminary Tests Under Tacitus


Appuleia Varilla

Germanicus and Gnaeus Piso – Maiestas Turns Deadly

The Creep of Maiestas and Informers

Two Proceedings in 22 A.D., Maiestas Targets the Powerful

Gaius Silius, Calpurnius Piso, and the Protection of Informers

Cremutius Cordus, The Apex of Tyranny

The End of the Reign of Tiberius





That upper spirit,

Who hath worst punishment, so spake my guide,

“Is Judas, he that hath his head within

And plies the feet without. Of th’ other two,

Whose heads are under, from the murky jaw

Who hangs, is Brutus: lo! How he doth writhe

And speaks not. The other, Cassius, that appears

So large of limb. But night now reascends;

And it is time for parting. All is seen. (Inf. XXXIV, 56-64)[1]

Dante vividly describes the ninth circle of hell, an icy section reserved for those who betrayed others in their life on Earth. A person who committed this type of act was, and still is today, truly considered the worst of the worst. Why is the concept of betrayal such a powerful one? Could it be due to the premeditation required to betray another person, or perhaps one imagines the damage that could be done if they themselves were betrayed?

Image of Lucifer half-submerged in ice.
Lucifer half-submerged in ice

Whatever the cause may be, the human race seems to be fascinated with the concept, as stories of treachery are as old as time itself. In Genesis Cain killed his own brother Abel, which constituted the first murder and first betrayal in the Abrahamic tradition.[2] When the Spartans held back the Persians at the “hot gates” of Thermopylae, they lost their lives due to the betrayal of Ephialtes (Hdt. 7.213).[3] Caesar was stabbed to death close to the Theatre of Pompey by a group of senators, led by the trusted Brutus and Cassius (Plut. Vit. Caes. 66).[4] Some seventy years later, Judas would betray Jesus, leading to his crucifixion.[5]

Around the same time as Judas’ actions, Cremutius Cordus was accused of treason for his written account of Roman history. His accusers specifically pointed at one phrase in which he labeled Brutus and Cassius as “the last of the Romans”. Knowing that his guilt and execution were certain, Cremutius Cordus took his own life. However, is there any resemblance between his actions, and those of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas?

Dante places the unholy triad of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas in the center of his Inferno, eternally trapped in the jaws of Lucifer himself. Their treason is inarguable, as Brutus and Cassius directly participated in Caesar’s murder, and Judas handed Jesus over to the authorities who despised Jesus. They all betrayed the leaders of their time, one being secular, the other being spiritual. Brutus and Judas both betrayed a close friend. In virtually every society that has ever inhabited the Earth, treason is one of the worst possible offenses, and one that both the government and the populace will not tolerate. This sentiment is what allowed the Roman charge of maiestas minuta populi Romani (diminution of the majesty of the Roman people) to evolve from an accompaniment to a treason charge to a forced suicide preceding, or a death sentence following, a show trial under the emperor Tiberius. Saturninus, a tribune of the plebeians, originally proposed the law to prosecute people who he believed had diminished the majesty of the Roman people. However, as Rome shifted from Republic to Empire, especially under Tiberius, the law became a convenient tool to prosecute, and execute, anyone at the whim of the emperor. Eventually, the maiestas law extended to persons who used contentious words, such as Cremutius Cordus. The maiestas law labeled speech as sedition, turned writers into traitors, and led to the death of many who dared to use the wrong words.


Recent Acquisitions: Six Ledger Sheets from the Circuit Court of Perry County, Alabama, February 11-19, 1878; Documenting Criminal Court Fees Certified by Alabama Probate Judge Porter King

This post by Rodney Lawley is an addition to our recent acquisitions. Lawley works with Litera Scripta editors as a research assistant in the special collections and archives of the Bounds Law Library.

The work of Porter King, a prominent nineteenth-century lawyer, state legislator, and businessman from the State of Alabama, is featured in the latest acquisition of the John C. Payne Special Collections of the Bounds Law Library. The Judge Porter King Ledger is a six-page legal document detailing criminal court fees issued by the Court of Perry County, Alabama (February 11-19, 1878).Image of Porter King ledger.

Judge King was born April 30, 1824, in Perry County, Alabama, and was the son of a wealthy Alabama plantation owner. After attending the University of Alabama and Brown University prior to 1843, King studied law under the tutelage of Colonel Thomas Chilton in Marion, Alabama. He began his law practice in 1845 and was elected to the state legislature for a single term in 1847.

Upon completing his term, King practiced law in Marion, Alabama, and he was subsequently elected as an Alabama Circuit Court Judge in 1850. King served the state in this capacity for fifteen years, interrupted only briefly by a one-year command of an Alabama Civil War regiment. In 1865, King was unseated from the Circuit Court by Governor Lewis E. Parsons, a provisional official appointed by President Andrew Johnson.

Following his removal, King applied his talents to business and served in many important roles, including director of the insurance company Central City, the Commercial Bank of Selma, and as president of the Selma, Marion, and Memphis Railroad.

King was later appointed as Alabama Probate Judge in 1877. It was during this short two-year term that he signed the ledger documents acquired for this collection. Although King was a probate judge during this period, the court fees levied in these documents are based upon criminal court convictions in cases such as murder, burglary, and affray. This action is supported by The Code of Alabama 1876 directing probate judges to act as the ex officio judge of a county court. It is with such legal warrant that Judge King executed the fee judgements recorded in this collection.

Although King’s service as probate judge was his last role on the bench, he is remembered fondly in an 1890 Birmingham Daily News article referring to King as “one of the best judges the state has ever had.” The article continued this acclaim by adding, “For the last thirty years he has been the most prominent man in the state.”

Documents within the Judge Porter King Ledger are directed to local sheriffs and constables and describe fees and costs pertaining to the issuance of writs, the serving of subpoenas, and other court actions that require public funding.

Image of Porter King ledger.One such document describes the court’s charge of twelve dollars and eighty cents for services provided in administrating a burglary charge. In this case, ten cents per mile was billed to the defendant for guard services required during his incarceration. Similarly-rich detail is provided for other court decisions, including conviction-related fees for the quasi-anachronistic charge of “carrying concealed brass knuckles.”

Judge Porter King died January 3, 1890, in Atlanta, Georgia, after “suffering about a month with a dropsical affection.” The John C. Payne Special Collections is pleased to present this representation of his historically-significant work.

Rodney Lawley


“An Alabama Jurist.” Birmingham Daily News. January 3, 1890, 6.

Owen, Thomas McAdory. History of Alabama and dictionary of Alabama biography. Volume 3. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1921. See 3:982 of the 1978 reprint by The Reprint Company, Publishers.

State of Alabama. The Code of Alabama 1876. “County Courts,” §719, 339.


Review of “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee” by Casey Cep

This post by Andrew Toler is an addition to our series of Alabama book notes. Toler is a 2020 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law and worked with Litera Scripta editors as a research assistant in the special collections and archives of the Bounds Law Library.

Review of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

By Andrew Toler

Before the publication of Go Set a Watchman—only eight months before her death—the literary community had come to accept the fact that Harper Lee would likely publish only one book. Upon hearing the news that Lee would, in fact, publish another book, many residents of Alexander City, Alabama assumed that it would be the one that she had worked on for decades about one of the Tallapoosa County city’s most infamous residents.

The book, which Lee abandoned for good in 1987, would obviously never see the light of day—under Lee’s name, at least. In her first book, Casey Cep brings to life both the story that Lee wanted to tell in The Reverend (Lee’s working title for the unfinished book) as well as the story of Lee: her life, struggles, relationships, and complexities. In three parts and 23 digestible chapters, Cep brings to life the story of three main people: the Reverend Willie Maxwell, his attorney Tom Radney, and Harper Lee, the famous author who attempted to write a true crime story about the Maxwell case.Cover image of Furious Hours.

The story that Lee wanted to turn into a true crime book in the style of In Cold Blood—which she helped research with its author, her longtime friend Truman Capote—is chillingly told by Cep in the first part of Furious Hours. Born in 1925, the Reverend Willie Maxwell was a tradesman and lay Baptist minister in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. Although at first respected in the small communities of Tallapoosa County, suspicion began to swirl around Maxwell after several of his relatives and associates—five before he was through—died under suspicious circumstances. The suspicion in the community included allegations of voodoo practices: unfounded allegations that were likely rooted in racism against African-Americans, but which the media—both local and national—devoured. Instead of voodoo, the most likely cause of the deaths was the dark power of life insurance, as Maxwell had life insurance policies on every single victim of the suspicious deaths. As a matter of fact, Maxwell was often in dire financial straits during the time of the deaths—which ranged from 1969-1977. Although the story is better told by Cep, the string of deaths of those close to Maxwell finally came to an end in 1977 with his own abrupt demise—shot to death at the funeral of his last victim.

Before his death, however, Maxwell needed his insurance money. And many life insurance companies refused to pay him, given the suspicious nature of the deaths of those on whom the Reverend held insurance. So the Reverend turned to the courts to get the money that he felt he was owed. Tom Radney, the lawyer that helped Maxwell sue the insurance companies—and also successfully defended him against charges of homicide related to the deaths—is the centerpiece of the second part of Cep’s work.

Alfred’s Doombook: The Anglo-Saxon Foundations of Magna Carta

From time to time we like to post historical essays written by recent Law School graduates. Today’s post is a work of intellectual history by Christopher Collins, a 2019 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law who is currently a graduate student in the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences. Chris is working on his MLIS. The title of his essay is “Alfred’s Doombook: The Anglo-Saxon Foundations of Magna Carta.”


Alfred’s Doombook: The Anglo-Saxon Foundations of Magna Carta

Magna Carta might often be misunderstood, but far worse is that King Alfred’s Doombook[1] is so neglected. A.E. Dick Howard wrote that Magna Carta “became and remains today one of the great birthrights of men who love liberty.”[2] But on June 15, 1215, it had nowhere near the significance it has assumed in recent years––its force of law actually declined over the next several centuries.[3] J.C. Holt even opened his magnum opus on the Charter with the statement that “Magna Carta was a failure.”[4] And yet we know it as Magna Carta––the Great Charter; but it was less an act of greatness than a preservation of the status quo[5] and perhaps even a bad-faith baronial power grab.[6]

Much of Magna Carta’s influence derives from the fact that it was thought for many centuries to be the oldest extant consolidated written statement of English law.[7] Even after the rediscovery of the old Anglo-Saxon laws, Magna Carta continued to be worshipped as “a sacred text, the nearest approach to an irrepealable ‘fundamental statute’ that England has ever had.”[8] King Alfred’s Doombook, however, is the oldest extant consolidated written statement of English law, and it is time to rediscover it as the true founding document of Anglo-American legal heritage.[9]

Image of Alfred the Great statue.
A High-Victorian Vision of Alfred the Great

This paper aims to show that while Magna Carta is rightfully revered as “a foundation stone of English and American legal rights,”[10] it is not the origin of our liberty-loving rights. Magna Carta is rather a later stone placed upon an Anglo-Saxon legal foundation started by Alfred’s compilation of laws, the Doombook. King Alfred compiled these laws toward the end of the ninth century.[11] He consolidated longstanding customs and practices from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and added Biblical authority.[12] Alfred’s goal in promulgating his Doombook aimed at uniting the English amid existential threats posed by large-scale Viking invasions. And the English kings seemed to base their authority partly on continuity with their predecessors––the legitimate king preserved the traditions of his predecessors, and this is the topic of Part I of this paper.

Image of King John signing the Magna Charta.
King John, backed into a corner at Runnymede

Kings Alfred and John actually had a great deal in common, as will be discussed in Part II, though history has been kind to the former and critical of the latter. Both were unlikely kings, favored by their fathers and dutiful to their brothers. But Alfred inherited a kingdom on the verge of annihilation whereas John would be crowned king of an efficient and almost automated governing apparatus.[13] This apparatus owed much to the reforms of John’s father, Henry II, but the system itself was built on the works of Alfred and the laws of his Doombook.

Parts III and IV will discuss Magna Carta and the Doombook. Part III will mention two fields that show no Anglo-Saxon precedent: the Charter’s “immediate use” provisions and the introduction of environmental law into the realm of English legislation. Part IV will discuss four common threads that show a continuum between Magna Carta and Alfred’s Doombook. These threads involve the regulation of customs and immigration; the rights of widows and the freedom of marriage; the idea that the king is not above the law and his need to seek counsel from his subjects; and the idea of due process and the equal application of the law of the land.

Every influence English law encountered, including Norman influence, has left an imprint on its character, but the Conquest merely wove itself into the established Anglo-Saxon fabric.[14] England did not begin anew when William and his Normans conquered the island.[15] The Anglo-Saxon system persisted and continued to provide the matrix within which English law would grow.[16] Magna Carta, like many famous tapestries from the Norman and Angevin era, is made of intricate stitching. But the first stitches to Magna Carta were not Norman or Angevin––they were Alfred’s.[17]

The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

The editors welcome this post from our colleague, Dr. Julie Seraphina Griffith, that offers a glimpse into the home study of United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black through descriptions of its furnishings and numerous books.

The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

The Hugo L. Black Collection consists of over one thousand books, personal correspondence, tapes and transcripts of interviews, descriptions of court decisions, office materials, biographical and bibliographical information, photographs, student papers, lecture notes, and personal memorabilia. The collection is stored in several different locations throughout the Bounds Law Library. Hugo Lafayette Black (1886-1971) was born in Clay County, Alabama, and is one of the most distinguished graduates of the University of Alabama’s law school. He served two terms as a United States Senator from 1926-1937, and was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1937 until 1971. Black died shortly after his retirement.

The Hugo L. Black Collection books are located in the Hugo Black Study, which was dedicated 40 years ago during ceremonies that celebrated the relocation of the School of Law in 1978 to a new building.

An image of the Hugo Black Study.
The Hugo Black Study at the Bounds Law Library

Renovations made in 2015 include lighting that makes the room and its contents much more visible. Photographic portraits of the Supreme Court can be seen adorning the tops of two walls. Black’s tennis racket is propped against the fireplace and his golf clubs are on the left. Items on Black’s desk include an exquisite black ocean globe, an Art Deco inspired design in which the color black represents the water rather than traditional blue. A smaller globe with blue oceans sits atop a typist’s desk placed by a wall of bookshelves. The Hugo Black Study is centrally located on the main floor of the library, adjacent to the Circulation and Reference Desks. Visitors are able to view the entirety of the study through a partial door that provides a full view of the room and its contents. The study is a replica of Black’s home study in Alexandria, Virginia. It was designed and built to accommodate all the original contents—everything is just as it was when Black was working there on a daily basis.

While the furnishings from Black’s home study in Alexandria, Virginia, were shipped to the library in 1973, most of his favorite books did not arrive until 1983. The study contains over one thousand books, including primary and secondary legal materials, a large collection of historical writings, and other genres. There are, of course, numerous works on law-related topics as well as many other books that reveal his broad reading interests. These range from Thomas Jefferson to poetry to tennis and instructions for playing bridge. Hugo Black was a well-read man.

The books have been catalogued and are now arranged on the shelves, not according to Black’s original shelving preferences but by Library of Congress call number order so that the books can be easily located for research purposes. [1] All the books are accessible via online catalog searches. These books have a location code that indicates their placement in the Hugo Black Study, and another code indicating that they are part of the larger holdings of the library’s John C. Payne Special Collections. [2]

Distinguishing features of Black’s books are the broad subject matter, variation of format—cheap paperback copies are juxtaposed with valuable rare books—and the fact that he read and reread the materials regularly. In some books, his written comments reveal an ongoing conversation between Black and the author.

Black's signature under F. Guiterman's bookplate.
Black’s signature underneath the former owner’s bookplate in this example of browsing second-hand bookstores

In addition, Black wrote to himself as he reread the books, providing examples of how his thought developed regarding certain topics. Black valued content over container and regularly perused used bookstores and catalogs. Roger K. Newman’s biography of Black contains an entire chapter, entitled “Books Are My Friends,” devoted to Black’s reading habits in which he discusses Black’s literary friendships with Will Durant, Carl Sandburg, and Alfred Knopf, among others. For example, Knopf published a book of Black’s opinions and he “usually took Black to dinner” several times each year. [3]

The classics were a significant influence on Black’s mindset, ideas, and interpretations. He studied Latin and Greek at Ashland College in Clay County, Alabama. This lifelong interest began when, as a law student, he sat in on an undergraduate English course taught by Dr. Charles H. Barnwell. This course prompted his “ever-increasing interest in the literature, philosophy and history of ancient Greece and the Greek way of life.” [4] Biographer Howard Ball comments that Black’s books by and about Greek philosophers, poets, and historians “are worn from repeated use, underlined and replete with marginalia, [and] indicative of the personal conversations Black had with the authors of these books.” [5]

Black also gave these books to his grandchildren, and had both his wives and his law clerks read Pericles and Aristotle, among many other Greek authors. While Aristotle was Black’s “favorite author,” Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way was Black’s favorite book and the first required reading that he assigned to new law clerks. [6] He was so fond of the works of Hamilton that he “literally coerced his children into reading them, with further admonitions to read Livy or Plutarch when the boys were in college or in the military.” [7] The books in Black’s study include two, five-volume sets of Plutarch’s Lives and Writings; one singular Modern Library edition; and a five-volume set of Essays and Miscellanies, with an introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. [8]

Among the vast array of valuable Hugo Black resources held by the Bounds Law Library is an autographed copy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book, Stride Toward Freedom. The library has shown this inscription to a variety of interested patrons, including local elementary schoolchildren and visiting legal scholars. The inscription reads; “To Justice Hugo Black, In appreciation for your genuine good-will, your perceptive vision, your broad humanitarian concern, and your unswerving devotion to the noble principles of our democracy, with warm regards, Martin King, Jr.”

Inscription from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Black.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inscription to Justice Black in Stride Toward Freedom

The Hugo Black Study is extraordinary. In its totality, the study exists apart from its surroundings as an intact historical artifact.  One of Black’s former law clerks, David Vann, upon seeing the study after it was relocated to the library, said that it was “kind of a shock really,” to see the study again. [10] Due to the careful preparation and design that went into the planning of the space, the room’s original furnishings, and the magic of Black’s books, the Hugo Black Study captures an authenticity of spirit that is as when Black used it almost fifty years ago. The essence of its atmosphere remains the same.

Julie Seraphina Griffith

[1] Griffith, Julie. “Digital Description and Access: The Hugo Black Collection at the University of Alabama School of Law Library.” A “New Voices” Award-Winning Paper presented at the 2002 Joint SCLA/SELA Conference. The Southeastern Librarian 51:3 (2003): 26-30.

[2] The Bounds Law Library Special Collections is named after former law professor John C. Payne.

[3] Newman, Roger K. Hugo Black: A Biography. 2nd edition. New York: Fordham University, 1997: 451-452.

[4] Black, Hugo L. “Reminiscences” Alabama Law Review 18:1 (1965): 3, 7.

[5] Ball, Howard. Hugo Black: Cold Steel Warrior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996: 7.

[6] Newman, 445-446.

[7] Ball, 7.

[8] Plutarch’s Lives: the Translation called Dryden’s. Corrected from the Greek and revised by A. H. Clough. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1974: 5 volumes.  Plutarch’s Lives: the Translation called Dryden’s. Corrected from the Greek and revised by A.H. Clough. New York: Colonial, 1905: 5 volumes. Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: Modern Library, 19-?. Plutarch’s Essays and Miscellanies: Comprising all his Works Collected under the Title of “Morals.” Translated from the Greek by several hands, Corrected and revised by William W. Goodwin. New York: Colonial, 1905: 5 volumes.

Image of Pandora's Box from Plutarch's Essays and Miscellanies.
A reproduction of Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s 1871 Pandora’s Box is the frontispiece on volume one of Plutarch’s Essays and Miscellanies [9]
[9] Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s gorgeous illustration of Pandora’s Box provides a particularly appropriate example of Black’s treasured classics collection as well as many situations he encountered during his long career as a public servant. Pandora (meaning “all-gifted” in Greek and Black was certainly a gifted man) was given a beautiful box by Jupiter to present to her husband, Epimetheus, who was the brother of Prometheus. When Epimetheus opened the box, only hope remained, after “a multitude of evils and distempers…dispersed themselves all over the world.” Black remained ever hopeful as he addressed a multitude of controversial issues throughout his career.

[10] Pruitt, Paul M., Jr. “The Return of Hugo Black: the Significance of the Hugo Black Collection at the University of Alabama” Alabama Law Review 43:1 (1991): 301.


George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

The following is a post by our friend Kurt X. Metzmeier containing commentary on a letter from our collection.

George Robertson and Book Consumers in Early 19th Century Kentucky

by Kurt X. Metzmeier

In an interesting 1820 letter, Kentucky lawyer George Robertson illustrates some of the difficulties of a book consumer on the expanding American frontier:

Lancaster 6th July 1820


You have written to me twice that you had rec’d two boxes of books for me and sent them to Jas Anderson and Co. in Lexington.  Since the reception of this information I have sent three times to Mr. Anderson but can’t find the boxes. They say they never rec’d them.

I’m very anxious to get them—and fear that you did not send them. It is the third attempt I have made to get books here and have never succeeded yet. There is something very strange in the fatality that befalls my books.

Be so good as to examine and if you have them, send them on as soon as possible—or let me know what has become of them.

Respectfully &c

G. Robertson

Robertson Letter, 1820

The letter is a nice find. It involves one of the towering figures in Kentucky legal history at an early point in his life. It also shines a light into the book trade on the American frontier and does so in the middle of an economic crisis.  Finally, the tone of the letter is relatively mild but you can faintly discern the rumblings of a legendary temper, one that would lead to one of the more famous fits of pique in Civil War history, a stubborn conflict that would involve governors, state and federal courts, and President Lincoln’s own wallet.

George Robertson (1790-1874)

George Robertson, whose portrait hangs in the courtroom of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville, served on Kentucky’s highest court 1829 to 1834, when he resigned to resume his private practice. He returned to the court to serve from 1864 to1871.[1] For a quarter-century, he led the prestigious law department at Transylvania University, teaching men like John Marshall Harlan the rudiments of jurisprudence.[2] His decisions on issues of criminal law and tort law were widely cited, and Kentucky histories and bar tributes mark him as a leading figure in the pantheon of state judges.[3]

George Robertson

However, in 1820 this was all in the future. Robertson was at this time a journeyman lawyer (he had been practicing law since he turned 19-years-old) and a U.S. Congressman serving his third term. He had just completed a term as chair of the public lands committee and, in the prior year, had successfully sponsored a bill which he wrote to establish the territorial government of Arkansas.[4] However, being “poor and having a growing family,” he would soon quit his seat to concentrate on the practice of law.[5]  Perhaps the two boxes of books he purchased were the working law library he needed to establish his new law office.

The Kentucky Book Market in 1820

From his home in the Bluegrass, Robertson would have had many opportunities to assemble a well-balanced library and legal collection.[6] Nearby Lexington was the intellectual capital of Kentucky for its first half century. As noted by pioneer William A. Leavy (whose 1873 manuscript memoir depicts a commercial life in pioneer Lexington), in 1820 it already had several booksellers.[7] Most had long associations with the publishing centers in Philadelphia and Cincinnati.[8]

As the letter suggests, many Kentuckians also purchased books by post. In “Nursery of a Supreme Court Justice,” Peter Scott Campbell and I examined probate records of books in the library of Robertson’s neighbor from nearby Danville, James Harlan.[9] We found Harlan owned many titles from the “Law Library.” Set up like the old Book-of-the Month Club, the Law Library was published by Philadelphia firm of T. & J.W. Johnson, which reprinted English legal treatises and mailed them out regularly to subscribers.

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th Century Justice’s Ledger

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s and 1830s. Justices of the Peace used ledgers like this one to record developments in the cases they heard. This ledger specifically deals with the complaints filed between neighbors for outstanding debts. In it, we see the financial mechanisms of an early 19th century Alabama frontier society. Thanks to Hudson Cheshire, our former research assistant and newly-minted J.D. for this post.

Debt and Default on the Alabama Frontier: Notes on a 19th century Justice’s Ledger

Hudson Cheshire

The subject of this blog post is a ledger used by Justices of the Peace in Clarkesville, Alabama during the 1820s. The ledger is about 200 pages long, with cardboard panels and a badly deteriorated leather spine. It is 14 ½ inches in length, 6 ¼ inches wide, and 1 ¼ inches deep.[1]

William A. Robinson, a Justice of the Peace of Clarkesville County, Alabama, began recording cases in this ledger in June of 1824.

Image of first page of Justices' Docket.
First page of Justices’ Docket

The last case recorded is from August of 1830. During this period, the docket went into the hands of at least two successive justices: Samuel Beckham, from July of 1827 to May of 1828, and Kendrick Ford from September 1828 to July of 1830. The successive justices continued to record developments in the cases first handled by their predecessors. The contents of this book were not, in all likelihood, a matter of public record, but instead a mechanism for recording, for future reference, whether disputes had been resolved. Thus, there is little in the ledger by way of common law precedent or factual background for any of the legal disputes.  In that respect, it is closer to an accounting notebook than a legal document. Still, it sheds light on the legal lives of Alabamians in the 1820s. To best contextualize the ledger’s contents, a few words are in order regarding Clarke County circa 1825 and the Justices’ legal duties.

Clarke County is located in southwest Alabama, just below the Black Belt and west of Monroe County, the hometown of author Harper Lee and inspiration for the setting of To Kill A Mockingbird. In the novel, narrator Scout Finch credits the events of the book to Andrew Jackson: “If General Jackson hadn’t run the Creeks up the creek, Simon Finch would never have paddled up the Alabama, and where would we be if he hadn’t?”[2] If the Creek War of 1813 accounts for the origin of Lee’s fictional town of Maycomb, it also seems to have been a major catalyst for population growth in Clarke County. While Alabama historian Thomas Owen writes that by the time of the Creek War, Clarke County was populated enough to “furnish many soldiers to Gen. F.L. Claiborne’s army,” he also notes that the greatest population growth occurred in the decade after the war. According to Owen, a tannery, shoe factory, water mill, “iron screw” (for cotton packing), and a sawmill were all erected in Clarke County between the war’s end and 1821.[3]

The Justices who kept this ledger lived in Clarkesville, which, in the years the ledger covers, was the county seat (in 1831 the citizens voted for the county seat to be moved to Grove Hill, “the geographic center of said county”).[4] That in this time Clarkesville was the seat of a rapidly growing county is interesting because this particular ledger is almost exclusively devoted to cases involving debt and financial obligations. Through the ledger, we see the financial interdependence of a growing rural community. We see the Justice of the Peace, not just as a public servant, but also as a tradesman, who played the role of facilitating financial transactions between the citizens of his community.