Eagle Tales: Washington College of Law

Excerpts from the Eagle 


From the archives: the Washington College of Law

1896: Washington attorneys Ellen Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillett planted the seeds of the Washington College of Law when they agreed to teach aspiring female attorneys—a progressive move at a time when most DC law schools didn't admit women. The first Woman's Law Class convened February 1 in Mussey's law office; three women attended. By fall, there were six students. Tuition was $5 per month. When WCL incorporated in 1898, it became the first law school founded and led by women.

1920: WCL's first permanent location was 1315 K Street, once the home of prominent attorney and orator Robert Ingersoll. The move was welcome, as the fledgling WCL had relocated frequently. Previous students had met in an E Street mansion with faulty furnaces and a landlord who was fond of imbibing and "auditing" classes. WCL then moved to an Eighth and F Street location where students often stumbled in the poorly lit halls and stairways. It took another three moves before WCL settled on K Street.

1963: Fourteen years after WCL's 1949 merger with AU, officials broke ground for the John Sherman Myers Building on campus. "Without a doubt, the idea of the law school on the uptown campus is one of the greatest ideas of the university," Dean Myers exclaimed. A time capsule, to be opened in a century or so, was buried in the new building's cornerstone, containing a DC Women's Bar Association yearbook, a WCL catalog, copies of the Eagle, and other treasures.

1996: After outgrowing the Myers Building, WCL doubled its space by moving to 4801 Massachusetts Avenue. The Eagle reported: "After 11 years of searching for the site, four lawsuits pending and recent attacks of vandalism, the new Washington College of Law building was opened Tuesday night." The building boasted a "classroom for the future," with technology that allowed professors to access students' computer workstations to display their documents on a screen.

2016: More than 200 people attended the June 2013 groundbreaking of WCL's new Tenley Campus digs, sipping "Tenley Tea" and enjoying a post-ceremony barbecue. In February 2016, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the guest of honor at the ribbon-cutting. WCL's 312,000 square feet include classrooms, courtrooms, clinical space, a law library, a dining hall and café, and a large courtyard. If WCL's founders could see how far that first Woman's Law Class has come, they would rightly be proud.