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History and Traditions

The Law School Students

Michigan has always been a large law school: When the Law School opened in 1859, there were 90 students, all men. Thirty years later, in 1890, there were 522 students, including two women.  The largest number in the 19th Century was 818, in 1899.  The student body diminished during the recessions of 1884 and 1893, and of course during the First and Second World Wars. In 1910 there were 809 students, but in 1919 only 183.  In 1944 there were 203 students, but right after the war the school expanded to over 1,000.  In 2008, there are about 1200 students: 1150 working on a J.D., and the rest working on advanced degrees. For current information about students, see:

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   » Michigan Law Today 

Michigan is a diverse law school:  Gabriel Franklin Hargo was the first African American to graduate from Michigan Law, in 1870, and he was probably the second to graduate in the nation from any law school. In 1871, Sarah Killgore Wertman became the first woman to graduate from law school and be admitted to the bar.  In 1944, Jane Cleo Marshall Lucas became the first African-American woman to graduate from Michigan Law.  Both Hargo and Wertman were admitted to the bar in Michigan and in Ohio, and both practiced law in Ohio.  Lucas was admitted to the Michigan bar, was the first African-American woman to pass the Maryland bar, and was the first woman on the law faculty of Howard University.  By 1909, Michigan had graduated more women than any other law school.  That commitment to access and diversity joined an equally powerful commitment to excellence which continues to this day.

Michigan attracts students from around the nation, and around the world. The first class of 90 included 29 from out of state and one from a foreign country.  As early as 1862, there were more out-of-state than Michigan students, and to this day that is still the case.  The number of students from foreign countries reached double digits in the 1880’s, and is currently around 100 each year. Michigan graduates represent nearly 80 foreign countries.



[Sources:  Elizabeth Gaspar Brown, Legal Education at Michigan 1859-1959, University of Michigan Press, 1959; and her “The initial admission of Negro students to the University of Michigan”, 2 Michigan Quarterly Review 233 (1963); Margaret A. Leary, “First woman lawyer” Law Quad Notes winter/spring 2006, p. 8; and Rebels in Law: Voices in the History of Black Women Lawyers, University of Michigan Press, 2000.]


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