Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843: The Lecture Method

February 9, 2013

Reeve, Gilbert, Gould, and Swift taught their students through lectures. This was the most common pedagogical system of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The lectures presented a synopsis and interpretation of a given topic, along with case summaries and references to authorities. Students would record the lectures as they were read, then edit and preserve them in notebooks.

Journal or chronicle of Sylvester Gilbert (1755-1846) of Hebron. Photostat. [Image cropped.] Reproduced courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The law schools at Litchfield, Hebron, and Windham used the lecture method throughout their existence. In this memoir Gilbert notes that he read a set of lectures based on two years of intensive research and study. Like Reeve, Gould, and Swift, Gilbert believed that he could transmit a complete summary of the law to his students.


James Gould, “Law School at Litchfield,” United States Law Journal and Civilian’s Magazine, vol. 1, no. 3 (Jan. 1823). [Image cropped.] Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Gould emphasized the pedagogical value of taking lecture notes and organizing them in a notebook. It was also a practice that gave each student a “manual, or commonplace book, (including a repository of references,) to aid him in his professional practice.” Increasingly obsolete over the course of the nineteenth century, Gould’s method reflected an era when law books were scarce and expensive.

Litchfield Law School, Moothall Society. Continuation of reports of cases argued and determined in Moothall Society from August 5th 1797 to July 12 1798. Courtesy of the Litchfield Historical Society.

In Litchfield and the other schools, students participated in moot courts and learned how to draft legal instruments. Hitchcock and Daggett also required occasional essays and presentations on legal topics.

– Notes by Michael von der Linn

“From Litchfield to Yale: Law Schools in Connecticut, 1782-1843,” curated by Michael von der Linn and Michael Widener, is on display through May 30, 2013, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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