For its first 22 years, the Washington College of Law led a vagabond existence, moving from one location to another. During those early years, a lack of funds and uncertainty about enrollment made finding a permanent home difficult.
The first law classes were held alternately in the offices of Mrs. Mussey and Miss Gillett, the school's founders. Soon after its incorporation in 1898, WCL secured the second floor of an historic mansion at 627 E Street. The E Street location was less than ideal; the furnace broke down at the first sign of cold weather, and the owner of the building, being a devotee of John Barleycorn, acquired the habit of attending classes whenever he imbibed.
In 1900 the Law School moved to the Le Droit Building on the corner of 8th and F Streets. Here there seemed to be a prejudice against lighting the halls and stairways, and the students stumbled in total darkness to the second floor.
Two moves and nine years later, Mrs. Mussey secured a lease on three rooms in the Chesley building at 1317 New York Avenue. The next few years brought a rapid increase in enrollment, and by 1920 the school occupied six rooms in the Chesley building.
Fund-raising efforts by students and faculty enabled WCL to purchase its first permanent home in 1920. Its new residence was the former home of philosopher Robert Ingersoll at 1315 K Street. Soon, the Law School outgrew the entire building.
A college endowment fund initiated by Mrs. Mussey in 1924 provided money for the purchase of a larger home. A former residence of Senator Underwood of Alabama, the new building at 2000 G Street was spacious and elegant. In the entrance hall, a massive, hammered brass, Turkish swinging lamp hung from the ceiling. A large marble mantle and fireplace dominated the reception room, and a winding Colonial staircase of mahogany and old ivory led to the upper floors. Three large classrooms, a kitchen, and a ladies tearoom transformed the old mansion into a school building.
The Washington College of Law had finally found a lasting home. For the next 28 years the school remained at the G Street location. Enrollment steadily increased, except during World War II, and the curriculum was expanded to include a day division and graduate programs.
In 1949, the Law School merged with The American University. Soon after, plans to move the school to the campus of A.U. were discussed. The need for a new building was urgent. A 1951 survey by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools found that "Housing for the school is inadequate�Without new quarters, the school will be in real difficulties soon."
In 1956 John Sherman Myers was appointed dean. Dean Myers made construction of a new Law School building on The American University campus his primary goal. For the next few years, he worked tirelessly, first persuading the University Board of Trustees of the need for a new building and then raising the $750,000 required for its construction.
Ground-breaking ceremonies for the new Law School building were held on March 9, 1963. The deans of the five Washington area law schools participated in the ceremonies, along with Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia who represented the Law School Alumni.
Construction of the building, designed by the architectual firm of Faulkner, Kingsbury and Stenhouse was complete by September of 1964.
The John Sherman Myers Law School building was officially dedicated on October 31, 1964, by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. During the ceremonies the Fritz Werner portrait of Dean Myers, which hangs in the lobby of the law school today, was unveiled.
On November 11, 1964, cornerstone ceremonies were held. Among the items placed in the capsule were a list of donors to the Myers hall building fund, a recording of the Law School dedication, and a letter from Dean Myers to some future dean of the Washington College of Law.
Within a few years after entering Myers Hall, WCL had again grown beyond its physical space. By the late 1980s, enrollment was pushing 1,000 students, the faculty comprised more than forty full-time and one hundred adjunct professors, and the library housed over 215,000 volumes.
Elliott S. Milstein was appointed acting dean in 1988 and then dean two years later. Previously, he developed and directed WCL's Clinical Program, one of the most successful student training programs in the country. As dean, Milstein concentrated much of his time and effort on finding new facilities for the law school. He fended off neighborhood objections and court challenges, and raised the much-needed resources. Support provided by WCL alumni and friends through the development office was critical to Milstein's efforts.
In 1996, WCL moved to a new state-of-the-art facility less than a mile from the AU campus at 4801 Massachusetts Avenue. Occupying nearly 180,000 square feet, WCL's new six-story facility is two and one-half times as large as Myers Hall. A two-story 54,000-square-foot library, with seating for more than six hundred, houses several unique collections, including European Union documents, the Goodman Rare Book Collection, and the Baxter Collection in International Law. The building, one of the most technologically advanced law schools in the country, provides students and faculty with interactive research and educational tools, teleconferencing capabilities, and worldwide access to resources via an expanded computer network.
- Information taken from an article in a magazine found in the Pence Law Library Archives. The name of the magazine is unknown.