The Brief and Miserable History of Princeton Law School

As I have previously noted, Princeton is a political factory. It churns out politics and Woodrow Wilson School (called “Woody Woo” by the students) majors who go on to law school, become lawyers, and then run for political office. But, if one were to ask any of these Princeton graduates where they received their law degrees, none of them would say Princeton. That is because, despite its status as a political juggernaut, Princeton does not have a law school. Graduates must go to one of those other esteemed institutions for a Juris Doctor, such as Harvard (boo!) or Yale (sucks!).

It is a rather ironic situation considering the fact that James Madison, chief framer of the Constitution and therefore father of American constitutional law, and Oliver Ellsworth, third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, both graduated from Princeton.

This has not always been the case. In 1847, Princeton, then called the College of New Jersey, opened its law department to award J.D.s. It had only three professors and graduated seven students before closing in 1852.

President William G. Bowen, who recently passed away, investigated the possibility of starting a law school in 1974, but the exploratory committee recommended against it.

Alas, Princeton still does not have a law school and probably never will unless an alumnus donates a really big chunk of change.

A remnant of the 1847 law school can be found on Mercer Street. The law department’s building was named Ivy Hall. After it closed, the Ivy Club, Princeton’s oldest eating club, resided in the building for some time and then later moved to Prospect Avenue. Today, Ivy Hall is owned by the Trinity Church.

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