Historic documents provide glimpse of law school in the 1890s

August 5, 2015

Indiana law school students attending classes in the mid-1890s got a healthy dose of railroad law and no spring break.

Anyone wanting to learn more about legal education from yesteryear can visit the IUPUI eArchives website where academic catalogues, commencement programs and other historical documents are now available online. The items from the IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives is available free of charge.

Indiana Law School was organized in the winter of 1893-1894 in Indianapolis and became the parent of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

According to the 1894-1895 student handbook, the goal of the new law school at the turn of the 20th century was to provide a rigorous legal education for students in the Midwest. The founding of the school reflected the changing demands for legal services.

“The day is past when a student could obtain adequate legal instructions in the office of an attorney in active practice,” the handbook stated. “With the rapid growth of the country and the consequent complication of business affairs the demand for thoroughly equipped law schools has greatly increased.”

Like their counterparts today, students enrolled at the newly established law school studied torts, evidence, civil procedure, contracts, and criminal law. They also took classes in railway law and “special topics in railway law.”

Tuition was $80 per year with classes beginning in October and ending in late May. Students were allowed to use the law libraries of the Indiana Supreme Court and the Marion County Bar Association. Also, students were advised that they could “find desk room in the offices of attorneys of the city free of charge.”

The course of study covered two years and eight months. At the successful completion of their studies, graduates received a Bachelor of Laws and were admitted, without examination, to the bar of the Indiana Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts.

Materials such as the handbook speak to the beginnings of IU McKinney, said Steve Towne of IUPUI’s Special Collections and Archives.

“Documents like this are not merely valuable for their nostalgia,” Towne said. “They are part of the school’s history, proving the lineage of the McKinney School of Law.”


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