Category Archives: Special Collections

In re Gault research portal

50 years ago today, on May 15, 1967, Supreme Court Associate Justice Abe Fortas delivered the landmark United States Supreme Court opinion in Application of Paul and Marjorie Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), which held that juveniles accused of crimes in a delinquency proceeding must be afforded many of the same due process rights as adults, such as the right to counsel, the right to confront witnesses, the right against forced self-incrimination, and the right to maintain a record of the proceedings.


Source: Record Group 267: Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1772 – 2007 Series: Appellate Jurisdiction Case Files, 1792 – 2010, File Unit: Case File 116, October Term 1966, In Re Gault. The link to the catalog record for the digitized case file can be found in the “archival materials” section of the research portal.

To mark in re Gault @ 50, we have launched a new research portal that offers links to archival materials documenting the case, as well as references to selected scholarship analyzing the history of the case and the state of due process in juvenile court.

Anniversary of the Kent State tragedy

On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on anti-war protesters at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine others. The events at Kent State happened just as final exams for the Spring Semester were about to begin at the Georgetown Law Center. On May 6, 1970, Adrian Fisher, Dean of the Law Center, wrote a memo to the Law Center community which addressed the situation. The letter now resides in the Law Center Archives, located in 210 Williams. The memo began:

“Recognizing that the events of the past week – the entry of American troops into Cambodia, the Kent State University killings – have given rise to crises in the consciences of many individuals which affect their ability to follow traditional Law Center procedures, and in order to allow those members of the Administration, Faculty, and Student Body of the Law Center to act upon their individual consciences in this crisis, the Law Center alters the Spring 1970 Term examination schedule in the following way.”

The memo outlined three options for students regarding the taking of final exams or submission of legal writing papers.

  • Take the exam or submit the paper as originally scheduled.
  • Take a delayed exam or submit a delayed paper. The memo specified a due date for delayed exams and papers to be turned in to the Registrar’s Office.
  • Take an “administrative pass”, which allowed the student to opt out of taking an exam altogether. Students had to notify the Registrar’s Office of their intention to exercise this option; for those students a note would be attached to their transcript stating the reason for the administrative pass. If a student later found that the administrative pass would not meet bar admission criteria, he/she could arrange to take a delayed exam at a time to be worked out with the Registrar’s Office.

Dean Fisher’s memo was a sensitive and compassionate response to an extraordinary set of circumstances. However, he made sure to note that the special conditions outlined in the memo applied only to the Spring 1970 term. He noted, “This action relates solely to the situation existing at this time and shall have no precedental force.”

It was 40 years ago this summer …

GU Law Library "Verso", May 4, 1977

GU Law Library “Verso”, May 4, 1977










May 4 marks “Star Wars Day” — May the “fourth” be with you!  The original “Star Wars” was released on May 25, 1977.  Because of all the sequels and prequels it has spawned, it’s now known as “Episode IV”.  Go figure!   How many times did we line up to see “Star Wars” in theaters and marvel at the work of Industrial Light and Magic?!

The summer of 1977 marked a milestone for the GU Law Library, too:  the introduction of the library’s first OCLC terminal. The May 4, 1977 edition of “Verso”, a library newsletter, had this illustration on its front page, a fun comment on library high-tech of the time. “Verso” is contained in the records of the Law Library, part of the Law Center Archives, located in 210 Williams.

The OCLC terminal arrived on June 15, 1977. Automated processes and procedures are now so commonplace in libraries that we hardly think about them. In 1977 they were cutting edge.   The lead story in “Verso” of August 20, 1977 focused on all the untapped possibilities of the new system:

“The uses of OCLC for cataloging are the best known and card production is the most developed function. However, Charlotte Uthoff, our OCLC trainer from George Washington University, made it clear in her talk on June 15 that cataloging is one subsystem of OCLC and that the potential uses of the system are much broader.

Already a number of libraries are checking in serials on-line in a pilot test of that subsystem of OCLC. OCLC can be used by acquisitions as a fast and convenient tool for verifying bibliographic information. Information needed for inter-library loan is available through OCLC as the bibliographic record for each entry includes the symbols of libraries that hold that title. Potentially, a subsystem could be developed so that inter-library loan requests could be generated automatically, just as catalog cards can now be processed by pressing a couple of buttons. Another public service function that could be performed using OCLC is that of compiling bibliographies. While a subject search is not yet available, searches can be made on authors, titles, series, and other added entries such as joint authors or editors. It is also hoped than an automated circulation system compatible with OCLC can be developed.

So when you think of OCLC, think first of cataloging and then beyond!”

Forty years later, the GU Library continues to use technology in many innovative ways to serve Law Center students, staff, faculty, and the wider scholarly world.

Anniversary of the Stamp Act


Stamp Act, on display in Special Collections

If you’re a Facebook user, you might have seen the post from the National Museum of American History noting that today, March 22, is the anniversary of the Stamp Act. On this day in 1765, Britain enacted the Stamp Act to raise money from the American colonies. It was the first direct tax on the colonies and, in the words of the Facebook post, “provoked an immediate, violent response.”

Did you know that Special Collections has a copy of the Stamp Act?  We do, and it’s on display in our reading room. Come by and check it out!
We’re located in 210 Williams; our hours are 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. No appointment is needed, feel free to stop by any time we are open.


For more on the history of the Stamp Act, see the
National Museum of American History website.

Featured acquisition: Law, Political Thought, and the Ancient Constitution

Among Special Collections’ notable new acquisitions is Erin Rahne Kidwell’s: Law, Political Thought, and the Ancient Constitution: A Case Study of George Saltern’s Of the Antient Lawes of great Britaine. Clark, New Jersey: Talbot Publishing, 2016.

65148Erin R. Kidwell served as the Curator of Legal History Collections at the Law Library until May 2016. The case study evolved from Kidwell’s 1999 S.J.D. dissertation, which she completed at Georgetown Law: Arthur and the Ancient Constitution: History…Story…Literature…Myth…Law: the indivisible link between culture and constitution, and focuses on George Saltern’s 1605 Of the Antient Lawes of great Britaine, one of the lesser known texts that were produced to debate the union proposals for England and Scotland made by James VI and I. Kidwell analyzes the “creative mix of mythical and historical elements present in the juridicial historiography of the ancient constitution.” The book includes a preface, an introduction, three chapters, a concluding essay, a three-part appendix, including a reproduction of Saltern’s text, as well as a bibliography and an index. In the concluding essay, Kidwell discusses the perdurance of the constitutional antiquarian tradition in the culture of British-American constitutionalism from the late Tudor period until the present day.  In her preface, Kidwell writes that she is “both fascinated and mystified that those secret footsteps of ancient constitutionalism have not only survived the tides of time but have continued to adapt and influence our juridicial culture to this day.”

Kidwell’s book is now available at the Law Library’s Special Collections Department.

The library’s Digital Initiatives Division has also digitized the Law Library’s copy of George Saltern’s Of the Antient Lawes of great Britaine, which is available on Digital Georgetown:

Carpeting update

The carpeting in the library continues apace. In fact, work on the fourth and fifth floors is now complete. Carpeting is ongoing in the Reading Room which is now closed to patrons:

Reading room 2

Reading room 2

If you need to utilize the resources of Special Collections, please contact them directly via phone at 202-661-9133 or

New Exhibits of Books from Special Collections

Georgetown Law Library Special Collections is pleased to announce two new exhibits featuring rare books from our collections. The first is our own exhibit, Magna Carta, Sir Edward Coke, and the Rule of Law at the Dawn of American Settlement. This exhibit is located in the Special Collections exhibit case outside Room 210 in the Williams Law Library. The exhibit features 5 imprints of Magna Carta cum Statutis tum antiquis tum recentibus, the leading compilation of English statutes from the reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI & I, that were annotated in law French by their owners. It also includes images from Sir Edward Coke’s personal annotated copy of Bracton, the landmark treatise of English law written shortly after the authoritative 1225 version of Magna Carta was issued by Henry III. Full text images of all of the featured books are available through Digital Georgetown.

The second exhibit is Age of Lawyers: The Roots of American Law in Shakespeare’s Britain at the Folger Shakespeare Library. This exhibit features our copy of Coke’s Bracton and our set of 17th century imprints of Parts 1 through 12 of Coke’s case reports, which were so highly esteemed that they quickly became known simply as The Reports; as well as many other rare books and manuscripts from the Folger’s collections.

For further information about these two exhibits, please contact us at

Happy 800th Birthday Magna Carta!

King John sealing Magna Carta

800 years ago today King John met the rebel Barons at Runnymede to sign and seal what would become known to posterity as Magna Carta, or the Great Charter. While King John may indeed have signed and sealed it on this day eight centuries ago, he had no intention of honoring it. He’d already made plans to appeal to the Pope to have the Charter nullified for having been signed under duress, which news he shared with his English subjects in early August of 1215 thus plunging the realm back into the turmoil of civil war. Fortunately for posterity, John would not outlive the conflict and upon his death in 1216, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and the newly appointed Regent to John’s son and now King, Henry III, reissued a revised version of the Charter. Marshall would again reissue it in 1217, and King Henry III would himself reissue it upon reaching his majority in 1225. It was only at this point in history that the Charter was titled Magna Carta in order to distinguish it from the Charter of the Forest clauses which had been reissued as a separate charter. Henry’s son, Edward I, would also reissue Magna Carta by having Parliament enact it in 1297 thereby securing its place in English legal history as the ‘first statute.’ It is in this later form that Magna Carta would come to be revered and appealed to as guaranteeing the rights of English, and later colonial American, subjects.

In honor of this 800th anniversary day, Georgetown Law Library is pleased to announce a small online collection of annotated late 16th and early 17th century imprints of the statutory compilation titled – Magna Carta cum Statutis. While all of Georgetown Law’s five annotated imprints have notations throughout in law-French, the professional language of English lawyers of the day, only three of them have extensive notations on the leaves containing Magna Carta and the 1608 imprint contains no notations about Magna Carta at all. The most extensive annotations are in copy 1 of the 1587 imprint that was signed by its owner on the title page – “Liber Richardi Bell de Grais Inn” [Richard Bell of Gray’s Inn’s book]. Complete images of all the leaves in these five imprints are available through Digital Georgetown.


Bell’s notations on clause 29 (clauses 39 and 40 of the 1215 Charter), known today as the Due Process Clause.

We have also prepared a research guide on the history and legacy of Magna Carta. This guide includes links to treatises, articles, and books.

Marion Barry – In Memoriam

The Law Center Archives houses a number of unique audio visual materials. Below is a clip of Marion Barry speaking at the McDonough Hall counter-dedication in September of 1971. Marion Barry was the director of the group Pride, Inc. at the time. He was joined by William Kunstler, Esq. , Catherine G. Roraback, a defense attorney in the New Haven Black Panther trial, and Arthur Kinoy, a law professor and activist from Rutgers University. At the counter-dedication Marion Barry asked students to fulfill their responsibility to the community around them.

Marion BarryFor more information on the counter-dedication of McDonough Hall stop by Special Collections in Williams 210 or email .

Mass Murder, Mayhem and Hangings….

Special Collections gets Spooktacular!

In the spirit of all things spooky, creepy and otherwise ghastly the following is a horror story straight from the Special Collections vault.img001All good horror stories start out as, one fine and pleasant day, but Saturday the 7th of July, 1838 turned out to be a gruesome day in Greensburg, Kentucky for Lucinda White and her family, who were brutally murdered, along with the family horse, for their money and possessions. It would be 18 months before the suspicion of murder was brought up and a warrant issued for the arrests of Carrington Simpson, Pleasant Saddler and Jason Bell. Simpson, Saddler and Bell had agreed to help Lucinda White, her two sons Lewis White and John Quincy White along with his wife Matilda and their 2 year old son William move to Alabama. Simpson was known to be a man into his drink, “petulant” and “a general wrong-doer…a terror to the neighborhood in which he lived.”(Allen, William. A History of Kentucky) Together, Simpson, Saddler and Bell murdered the 5 Whites. The victims’ bodies were deposited in an abandoned cabin on Simpson’s land and covered with tobacco stalks. It wasn’t until Matilda’s father Daniel Kessler was unsuccessful in contacting her in Alabama and the clothes of the White family were seen being worn by Simpson’s family that the suspicion of foul play was considered. Simpson was arrested in March of 1840. After his arrest, a search party was organized to look for the bodies and once discovered, Simpson finally admitted to the crime. Saddler and Bell were both arrested shortly thereafter as a result of being implicated by Simpson. Both Saddler and Bell escaped their sentences and would die in jail before they were to be executed by hanging. It was rumored that Saddler smothered Bell in their jail cell and then hung himself. Justice was served to Simpson though, who was lead to the gallows on 21st of September 1841. Of some unique interest, the executioner James B. Montgomery, charged $5.00 for the gallows and $1.00 for the rope according to account books.

img002The Carrington Simpson case materials are a recent manuscript addition to Special Collections. The documents which span 1840-1841 were compiled by Samuel A. Spencer, Simpson’s defense attorney. They include Simpson’s confession, attorney notes, lists of jurors, depositions of witness, account books and diaries. It is an interesting example of defense documents from the mid-19th century. Though the crime happened in a small town, the perpetrators were judged by two local justices before standing trial in circuit court. This collection has become part of the growing collection of practitioner’s papers from the 18th and 19th centuries. For more information regarding this collection and other historical collections please visit Special Collections in Williams 210 or contact Special Collections at

Happy Halloween from Special Collections.