A Tribute to Our Past: The George Wythe Room in the Wolf Law Library

satiraby John Satira, Class of 2017

After a summer away, I returned to William & Mary Law School this semester and was welcomed by a brand new edition to the Wolf Law Library: The George Wythe Room. To learn more about the George Wythe Room, I sat down and spoke with Ms. Linda K. Tesar, Head of Technical Services and Special Collections, and I got some more information about the newest edition to William & Mary Law School. As a fan of history, museums, and libraries, I appreciated having the opportunity to learn about the Room.

George Wythe Room

George Wythe Room

In 2007, the Wolf Law Library began gathering books for the George Wythe Collection. The special collection was meant to contain books and other documents that are important the legacy of George Wythe. The idea to create a room dedicated to displaying the collection blossomed in 2010, and the Room was completed and opened in August 2015. Why the focus on George Wythe? Not only is he the partial namesake of our law school with its official title as the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, but George Wythe was the first ever professor of law in the United States while he taught as the Professor of Law and Police at William & Mary in the  late 1700s. Wythe is so important, in fact, that along with having his own room, the Wolf Law Library also runs an academic wiki called the Wythepedia that is an online database of all things George Wythe-related.

The George Wythe Room has been modeled off of the Thomas Jefferson Collection in the Library of Congress, which makes the room seem like a modern replication of the type of library Wythe himself would have had. Currently, the Room contains nearly 330 titles and over 650 volumes. You can even check out a digital recreation of the Room here. Due to some of the books being many, many years old, the displays are protected by ultraviolet (UV) glass, special lighting, and a climate control system that keeps the temperature and humidity consistent. The precautions are important for preservation of the historical documents, or as Ms. Tesar puts it, “That’s what rare books like.”

Room 2Aside from books and related documents, other features of the Room have historical significance as well. In particular, the Room contains three notable paintings. The first is one of George Wythe himself, which is displayed prominently in the Room for obvious reasons. There are also two lithograph paintings in the George Wythe Room: one of Thomas Jefferson and one of John Marshall. These two men are among the most notable and nationally prominent of Wythe’s legal students, with Jefferson serving as the third President of the United States and Marshall serving as the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

One of the reasons I chose to attend William & Mary Law School is due to its well-regarded status as a starting point of American legal education. Walking past the George Wythe Room each day helps to remind me of the important legacy William & Mary has, as well as a legacy that I am now a part of.

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