Celebrating 100 Years of UF Law 1909 – 2009

In celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, this historical timeline is presented as an exploration — not just of time, but of people. It chronicles the actions and aspirations of men and women who yearned to understand the law and to practice it in support of their communities. Theirs is a rich and colorful tapestry of people and events, which helped shape UF Law into the institution it is today. Visit the college’s online timeline at www.law.ufl.edu/history/timeline for a more detailed, interactive journey through UF Law history. Harry R. Trusler, the law school’s longest serving dean, wrote:

“Law is a liberal education. It cultivates and disciplines the mind; develops personal capacity and leadership, and imparts the essentials of business and of government. Were there no such thing as the legal profession, the College of Law, in training for active life, would hold its own as a practical College of Arts and Sciences; for the history of man — the story of his struggles and achievements — is written just as fully and significantlyin his laws as it is in his language, art, literature, philosophy, or sciences.”

Special credit must be given to Grace “Betty” Taylor, UF Law librarian and historian, for researching and authoring Creating a Law Program at the University of Florida, the document from which much of the content for this and the online UF Law timeline is drawn.

In the Beginning

Before the University of Florida was established, Kingsbury Academy, located in Ocala, Fla., was acquired by the state and renamed East Florida Seminary in 1853. After the Civil War, the seminary moved to Gainesville and was consolidated with the state’s landgrant Florida Agricultural College, based in Lake City, to become the University of the State of Florida in 1905, later renamed the University of Florida in 1909. Classes began on Sept. 16, 1906, with the admission of 102 white male students.

This new university was established by the Legislature on June 5, 1905, under what was popularly known as the Buckman Act. Four years later, the State Board of Education met jointly with the Board of Control in Tallahassee and passed a resolution authorizing the Board of Control to establish a college of law in the University of Florida. The Board of Control met in Jacksonville in June of 1909, and provided for the University of Florida College of Law, which, “by the quality of its work and character of its equipment, would merit and command the confidence and support of the bench and bar of the State and would draw within its walls the young men who will constitute the future bar of Florida.”

Nathan Philemon Bryan served as chairman of the Board of Control during this period. He was a Florida native, had earned his undergraduate degree from Emory in 1893, a law degree in 1895 from Washington and Lee, and was admitted to The Florida Bar the same year. Referred to as the “father of the law school,” Bryan took an active role in securing the law school for the university, and remained
involved while he was a U.S. senator, and judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fifth Judicial Circuit.

1. Harry R. Trusler, UF Law’s longest serving dean
2. UF Law’s Class of 1910, E.C. Clahoun, C.C.
Small and L.P. Hardee.
3. Natalie Weinstein, one of three women, who, in
1933, were the first female graduates of UF Law.
4. Chesterfield Smith (JD 48), ABA president and
“America’s Lawyer.”


The law school opens in the humble setting of one unplastered room in Thomas Hall Dormitory with 38 students and two faculty members. Two years of high school work is required for entry. The new dean, Albert J. Farrah, recruits the first three students from his former post at Stetson University. Students eat, sleep and attend class — all for $165 a year — in Thomas Hall.


Three law students, transfers from Stetson University, were the first students to graduate from the new University of Florida College of Law. Dean Trusler later said about this class of 1909-1910, “They entered an obscure law school of no rating, with an obscure faculty, a few second-hand books, and an admission requirement of two years of high school work, or its equivalent, with emphasis on the equivalent… These were the original faith boys, whose faith inspired faith — faith in themselves, their college, and their state.”


Bryan Hall, 1914

Bryan Hall, 1914

The law school moves to the new $24,000 law building (dedicated as Bryan Hall in 1941), one of the first permanent buildings on campus. Under the guidance of the school’s longest serving dean, Harry R. Trusler (1915-1947), the College of Law is admitted to membership in the Association of American Law Schools in 1920, and approved by the American Bar Association in 1925.


Spessard L. Holland graduates. Holland goes on to become a Florida and U.S. senator and founding partner of Holland & Knight, now one of the largest law firms in the world. Referred to by President Lyndon B. Johnson as one of the five most powerful men in the Senate, Holland served int he U.S. Senate for 24 years, and went on to serve as Florida’s governor (1941-1945), a position which was later occupied by three UF Law graduates.


Alto Adams graduates and goes on to become the first alumnus to serve as a Florida Supreme Court justice (1940-51) and chief justice (1949-51). To date, 19have been chief justices.


Stella Biddle became the first woman allowed to attend law school classes. Although Biddle had attempted to register as a student at the College of Law, her application was denied. Nonetheless, Dean Harry Trusler — who had petitioned the state Legislature to allow women to enroll in the College of Law — permitted he to attend classes as a visitor. She later became an attorney in Gainesville and in 200 was recognized as one of the first 150 women admitted to The Florida Bar.


Florida’s first female law graduates — Natalie Weinstein, Rose E. Friedlin and Clara Floyd Gehen — complete their law degrees at UF. On their first day of law school, male students formed lines in front of the school in protest. Despite the attention and gender discrimination, Gehan received the Harrison Award for highest overall grade point average upon graduation, went on to establish the first woman-owned law practice in Gainesville., and became president and director of Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association.

UF becomes one of nine school in the nation, and the first in the south, requiring a college degree for admission.


Charles E. Bennett graduates. He was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948 and went on to be Florida’s longest-serving congressman and the second longest-tenured member of the House when he retired in 1993. He sponsored legislation that created an ethics code and made “In God We Trust” the U.S. motto, requiring it to be added to coins and currency.


George Baughman graduates and becomes the first of a distinguished group of eight graduates who become presidents of Florida colleges. One 1948 graduate, Harold Crosby, was president of two.


Stephen C. O’Connell, future U.S. senator, Florida Supreme Court justice and University of Florida president (1968-73), graduates from UF Law. While a student at the university, O’Connell was Student Body president, Blue Key president, participated on the boxing team, and was inducted into UF’s Hall of Fame.


In 1941 the law school building was dedicated and named in memory of Nathan Philemon Bryan, chairman of the Board of Control at the time of the founding of the College of Law, a former U.S. senator, and a U.S. circuit judge. In addition, the new, four-story law library annex was completed. The building was 50 percent larger than the library’s previous space. The library space vacated in the law school building was renovated for classrooms, offices, and study and consultation rooms.


Frank Maloney graduates and will return to serve as dean of his school from 1958-70. He is one of 13 graduates who become deans of law schools, including three who led their alma mater.


World War II took its toll on enrollment at the university and college, and some war-years classes had only one person attending. To address this dearth of enrollees, a combined academic law course with Florida State College for Women at UF was offered at UF in 1943. In addition, the 10-year-old requirement of an undergraduate degree as prerequisite for entry into law school was lowered to two years of college to broaden enrollment of new students. In 1943, 26 students enrolled, including seven women.


Riding the wave of the GI Bill, 500 students enrolled at UF Law and studied under nine full-time and four part-time faculty members. Before the war only 1 percent of UF students were married — after the war, returning veterans, married and many with children, constituted a large percentage of the student body. Flavet Village, rows of prefabricated buildings, was created to provide housing relief.

Henry A. Fenn became dean, and the first issue of the University of Florida Law Review was published with Harold B. Crosby as editor in chief.


Virgil D. Hawkins, formerly a faculty member of Bethune Cookman College, was denied admission to the University of Florida College of Law because of Florida’s Jim Crow laws. Nine years later Hawkins withdrew his application in exchange for a court order that desegregated the state’s university system, including UF’s graduate and professional schools.


The Florida Bar is created, with its first four Gator grads. Since that time, the majority of presidents have been UF Law alumni, including the 60th Bar President John “Jay” G. White (2008-09).


Lawton Chiles, a fourth-generation Floridian who went on to become a U.S. senator and Florida’s governor, was hired as a student assistant in the law library at 75 cents per hour. Law Librarian IIa R. Pridgen wrote in her notes that he was married with two children, recently returned from the Koren Wat, lived in Flavet, and was “a very nice looking boy.”


The college is granted a charter by the Order of the Coif in recognition of high academic standards.


Because of Virgil D. Hawkins’ efforts, George H. Starke Jr. became the first African-American to receive a UF law degree.


The University of Florida College of Law celebrated its 50th anniversary.


A new wing of the law school is completed and opens in the fall to ease overcrowding. The new space adds two new classrooms, a large seminar room, some offices and the added bonus of central air conditioning, a first for the law school and a rarity campus-wide.


The law library catches fire from cigarette ashes smoldering in a wastebasket behind the circulation desk. Twenty-one days after assuming her post as head law librarian, Grace “Betty” Taylor faces the challenge of salvaging the remaining building and books and finding a solution to the loss of study space and resources for students.


In January, the college occupied the new Spessard L. Holland Law Center, named in honor of a distinguished 1916 graduate (see 1916). Designed for 1,200 students, the number of classrooms increased from four to nine, seating from 248 to 699. Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Earl Warren delivered the keynote address during the building’s Feb. 1 dedication ceremony.

Wilbert Langston purchased “the little store across the street.” Ever since, Wilbert’s has been popular with generations of law students, faculty and staff.


Chesterfield Smith (JD 48) became the first UF alumnus to head the American Bar Association. As ABA president, he challenged President Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigations, famously declaring, “No man is above the law.” Smith was a founder of the Holland & Knight law firm and named in Tom Brokov’s book, The Greatest Generation, as “America’s Lawyer.” Three other UF Law graduates, W. Reece Smith Jr., Talbot “Sandy” D’ Alemberte, and Martha W. Barnett, went on to serve as ABA presidents, and a fourth, Stephen N. Zack, is slated to assume the position of ABA president in 2010.

Hazel Land, the first African-American woman to enroll at UF Law, graduated.


The Graduate Tax Program begins. Today it is the college’s premier signature program, with nearly 2,000 American and foreign graduates. Recognized by tax scholars and and practitioners as one of the best nationwide, U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks it as among the top two.


The Marcia Whitney Schott Courtyard was named in her honor with a donation from her husband, Lewis M. Schott. Both are 1946 graduates of UF Law.


In response to a 1981 report by the American Bar Association, which noted “a critical need for additional space” at the college, construction on anew commons building was completed. The building was named Bruton-Geer Hall, after the parents of the donors, Judge James D Bruton Jr. (a 1931 graduate) and his wife Quintilla Geer-Bruton. Their gift, $1.1 million, was combined with state matching funds and the gifts of more than 780 alumni, friends, faculty, and students who contributed to the building campaign to raise $2.2 million. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist spoke at the Sept. 15 dedication of Bruton-Geer Hall.


Despite its expanded facilities, the law school still needs more space. Thousands of volumes are permanently withdrawn from the Legal Information Center collection due to a shortage of shelf space. Former UF Law professor and trustee of the Law Center Association, Gov. Lawton Chiles, supports the law school’s campaign to raise funds for a new Legal Information Center.


1961 law graduate Fredric G. Levin gave the college a $10 million dollar gift that was matched by $10 million from the state and immediately moved the college’s endowment into the top 10 of all public law schools in the nation. The College of Law was named in honor of Fredric G. Levin.


A critical grassroots effort by alumni raises $6.3 million for major facilities construction and remodeling. The money raised, plus state matching funds and university matching funds, provide the $25 million needed to begin the  much-needed expansion, which was necessary to retain the American Bar Association accreditation. Demolition and construction of Holland Hall begins July 2003.


U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke at the September dedication of 11 new classrooms and the Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center. The 78,000-square-foot law library serves as the centerpiece of the college’s $25 million renovation project, which was completed in August of 2004.


U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg spoke at the September dedication of the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom. A close personal friend of Smith, Justice Ginsberg said Chesterfield Smith was “the most magnetic, exuberant, irrepressible, altogether irresistible lawyer” she has ever known. The Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom was funded through a leadership gift from the Holland & Knight Charitable foundation Inc.


On Sept. 6, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. participated on the judge’s panel for the Justice Campbell Thornal Moot Court Final Four. His visit was followed by a Nov. 17 visit by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. Stevens engaged in a “conversation” with law students, faculty and staff as part of the Criser Lecture Series.


The college celebrates 100 years of educating leaders for the state, nation and legal profession. The Martin H. Levin Legal Advocacy Center is scheduled to be opened in September. The impressive stand-alone 20,000 sq. foot center rising south of Bruton-Geer Hall boasts a two-story grand foyer and glass entry with an open staircase. It will house a fully functional trial and appellate court room on the first floor with a 98-seat gallery, bench for seven judges, a jury box and attorney’s tables. The courtroom also accommodates judge’s chambers and a jury deliberation room. The second floor houses two small classrooms and offices for retired faculty. Fred Levin, a 1961 alumnus of the UF law school, contributed $2 million for the center as the lead gift to the University of Florida Levine College of Law. In addition to significant gifts from others, Levin’s gift was matched by the State of Florida Facilities Enhancement Challenge Grant Program to bring the total contribution to $5.2 million.

Visit the UF Law Timeline at www.law.edu/history/timeline