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Law Librarian Spends Three Decades Researching Her Cook Book

by John Masson

William W. CookWhen Margaret A. Leary came to work at the Law Library at the University of Michigan in 1973, she found an unexpected item in a vault in her office: a large black object that turned out to be the death mask of Michigan Law's most famous benefactor, William W. Cook.

Thus began a three-decade fascination with the life and work of Cook, best known at the Law School as the man whose generous bequest simultaneously launched the school into the top rank of legal education and gave Ann Arbor perhaps its most recognized buildings: the magnificent Law Quadrangle that bears Cook's name.

Problem was, little else was commonly known about the Gilded Age lawyer, who was born in 1858. What was known was often a pastiche of misconceptions and distortions. So Leary set to work discovering the truth about Cook, and shares her discoveries in her newly published book Giving it All Away: The Story of William W. Cook and His Michigan Law Quadrangle (University of Michigan Press, 2011).

The recently retired librarian will be meeting readers and signing books in Room 100 of the Hatcher Graduate Library on campus, on Tuesday, September 27, from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

The hunt for information on Cook, who made his fortune in the famously rancorous telegraph industry and never returned to Michigan after he earned undergraduate and law degrees here, took Leary far beyond the confines of her library. Among her goals was determining what made Cook a philanthropic trendsetter among his peers and how his relationship with his alma mater was carefully fostered by university officials.

Learn more about Leary's findings in this Michigan Law video, appropriately recorded in Cook's personal library, the Cook Room, which was painstakingly rebuilt at Cook's request on the ninth floor of Michigan Law's Legal Research Building.

 

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