Spicy Reforms and Crystallizing Claptrap

Student Organizations at Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School Republicans event flyerWhat do dining halls, women’s showers at Hemenway, and shared course outlines have in common? These are all resources available at Harvard Law School today that were put into place by students of yesterday. Flyer for Harvard Law School Lambda eventThis exhibit takes a look at how students and their ever-increasing number of law clubs, social clubs, and affinity groups have contributed to HLS culture over time. Inspired by an archival collecting project undertaken by Historical & Special Collections in 2016-2018, the exhibit also addresses how archivists here at HLS and abroad are coordinating efforts to preserve today’s student histories.

This exhibit was curated by Jessica Farrell and Jane Kelly and was on view September 2018 - January 25, 2019.

Men at Work

Harvard Law School Westengard Law ClubIn the early years of the Law School, student activities on campus centered on academic and scholarly pursuits. Students formed moot court clubs to argue cases, competed in competitions organized by the school, and read dissertations in informal reading groups. The earliest formally recognized student organizations— the Harvard Law Review (1887) and the Board of Student Advisers (1909) — focused on the study of law.

Students had begun to organize in order to fill other needs that the school had not, or could not, meet in the early 20th century. Students have always identified gaps in institutionally-run and funded services and worked to address them. The Law School Committee of the Phillips Brooks House Association, established in 1908, intended to meet student needs outside and adjacent to the classroom. Social clubs, such as Lincoln’s Inn and the King’s Bench, and groups formed around state and regional identities were also established in these early days.Harvard Law Record editorial

By the mid-1900s, students had begun to build organizations that were not just about arguing cases and reading dissertations. The Board of Student Advisers, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Yearbook, Harvard Law School Forum, and Harvard Law Record—organizations that still exist today—were all founded between 1910 and 1946.

Image Credit: Detail of Westengard Law Club, 1912-1913Tupper (Cambridge, Mass.), photographer; Gelatin silver print, 16.7 x 23.3 cm photograph; Photographs of Harvard Law School Students: Clubs, Organizations, Activities; HOLLIS 8001351558. Editorial by Fourth Termer; Harvard Law Record, vol. 1, no. 1 (July 17, 1946); HOLLIS 990015671740203941.


Tradition in Transition

Harvard Law Wives Club, 1972 Yearbook photoHarvard Law Record article titled "Law Wives Inaugurate Children's Playground"In the mid-20th century, moot court and social clubs struggled to maintain members and different kinds of affinity groups (sometimes described as “political” groups) emerged. 1973 was the last year that the Law Wives Club was included in the HLS Yearbook. Places like Kendall House had become less necessary to support student dining and social activities as the Harkness Commons, constructed in 1950, took their place. Although a few regional affinity groups like the Texas Club persist today, many ceased to exist during this era. Women were finally admitted to the school for the first time in 1950, and both the Women’s Law Association and the Black Law Students Association were established in the late 1960s. The 1971 Yearbook staff acknowledged the declining popularity of law clubs and changing social landscape of the school:

“Among these groups which continue to meet despite a waning of interest is the St. Thomas More Society. The Southern Club threatens to go the way of the old-time Chancery Club and Coffee Hour. But as surely as some clubs fade, others begin. And so the Yearbook takes note of the HAT CLUB. May it not catch cold.”

Image CreditLaw Wives Club, 1973; Harvard Law School Yearbook; Red Set KF292 .H33 A3; HOLLIS 990003742840203941; “Law Wives Inaugurate Children’s Playground;" The Harvard Law Record, vol. 1, no. 4 (August 7, 1946); Red Set KF292 .H33 A3; HOLLIS 99153545682603941


Coalition Building and Reform

Not every Harvard Law School student organization on campus has made its way into the Yearbook. Short-lived and unofficial organizations are well-documented in the Harvard Law Record, though they may have little other presence in collections held in Historical & Special Collections or Harvard University Archives.Harvard Law Record headline "Spicy Reforms Revealed During Legal Ed Session"

HLS students have participated in groups composed of different HLS student organizations and across Harvard schools. There was a huge increase in the number of organizations on campus beginning in the 1970s, which was also a period of coalition building. During the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, HLS groups such as the Coalition for Civil Rights, Third World Coalition, Affirmative Action Coalition, Coalition on Gay and Lesbian Issues, and Coalition for Diversity addressed antidiscrimination, civil rights, faculty diversity, and the needs of minority students on campus. Student coalitions bridged the gaps between more narrowly defined groups to advocate for social, political, and academic change.

Institutionalized mechanisms for student feedback and input have existed at HLS for over a century, first in the form of the Law School Council of the Phillips Brooks House Association. In more recent decades, the Law School Council (LSC)—known today as the Student Government Association (SGA)—submitted recommendations and reforms on behalf of the student body to the HLS and Harvard University administrations.

Image Credit: Spicy Reforms Revealed During Legal Ed Session”; Harvard Law Record, vol. 62, No. 3, (February 13, 1976); HOLLIS 990001167900203941

Preserving the Present and Future

Flyer for event at Princeton UniversityDo you ever wonder how these items make their journey to exhibit cases, or even to our library collections to begin with? The items in this case are intended to reveal some of the labor and strategy behind the work archivists do, and connect this exhibit to a national movement focused on giving students louder voices in the archives of the institutions they’ve shaped.

This exhibit was inspired by a collecting project that Historical & Special Collections staff undertook between 2016-2018. In the Fall of 2016, when black tape was placed on the faces of African American faculty portraits in Wasserstein Hall and students organized to demand change from the HLS administration, HSC staff reflected on the content of our collections. We recognized a gap in student organizations, and quickly made building relationships with students a priority. But Harvard Law School wasn’t alone: this was a time of increased political engagement at college campuses across the US. And Harvard Law School archivists weren’t alone either: information professionals across the country responded.

The flyer shown here is from a 2016 event held by the Muslim Advocates for Social Justice and Individual Dignity at Princeton University. It  was collected during the “Archiving Student Activism at Princeton” project. Started by Jarrett Drake, former digital archivist and now Ph.D. student at Harvard, the ASAP project was the core inspiration for Harvard Law School Library’s student collecting efforts in 2016-2018. Recognizing the need to continue this work, Princeton University now employs a fully dedicated Archivist for Student Life. Additional material loaned by archivist Ellen Swain at the Student Life and Culture Archives at the University of Illinois Archives is also on view in the physical exhibit. Swain's scholarship on documenting student voices in the archives guided the Harvard Law School Community Capture project, a project dedicated to improving Historical & Special Collections collections created by and relationships with student organizations, in 2017-2018.

Image Credit: Representing the “Enemy," May 7, 2016; Muslim Advocates for Social Justice and Individual Dignity, Princeton University; Archiving Student Activism at Princeton (ASAP) Collection; Reproduction courtesy of the University Archives, Princeton University Library