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St. Paul College of Law

St. Paul, Minnesota



With Satisfaction and Honor is Douglas R. Heidenreich’s centennial history of St. Paul College of Law and its merger partners.  The Minnesota Historical Society has the school catalogs.  Until it closed in 1905, the St. Paul Globe covered most school activities.  The school seal is courtesy of the Warren E. Burger Law Library.


St. Paul College of Law was founded in 1900 by members of the Ramsey County Bar Association.  At that time there was no law school in Minnesota which provided night classes for those who held day jobs.  Classes began that year for “a modest enrollment of about twenty.” Classes met 7:30 to 9:00 nightly.  Faculty members were all practicing lawyers and judges.  While they were supposed to receive $5 for each class session, many taught without salary. 


According to Heidenreich, entrance requirements were a high school diploma or its equivalent, “and to be at least eighteen years of age---and breathing.”  The school professed to offer the same level of training as the law school of the University of Minnesota, and its graduates were immediately admitted to the bar.  Students who had not met the entrance requirements were required to make up coursework and pass the bar exam.  However, in 1906 the Minnesota Legislature passed a law requiring all graduates to pass the bar exam.  


The three year program was increased to four years in 1922. 


In 1904 enrollment was listed as 150, rising to 318 in 1925, but dropping to 125 during the Great Depression.  The student body was composed primarily of white males.  However the first black student—a mail carrier by day named James P. Anderson, graduated in 1904.  Two female students were part of the 1906 graduating class. Irene C. Buell, a 1907 graduate, became the 36th female in the nation to be admitted to practice before the U. S. Supreme Court.


Ninety percent of the S.P.C.L. budget came from student tuition—initially $60 per year.   As a result, the school operated “at the margin of solvency,” according to Heidenreich.  Dependence on tuition for survival led to lax admission policies, inflated grading standards, and abysmal bar exam performances by S.P.C.L. graduates.  As a result, St. Paul College of Law did not receive accreditation from the American Bar Association until 1943.


For a night school with most students employed by day, S.P.C.L. experienced a remarkable social life.  The C.K. Davis Debating Society engaged in debates against teams from the Y.M.C.A.  The school also had a chapter of the Delta Theta Phi legal fraternity.  Newspapers reported “annual” banquets, stag parties, balls, and promenades.      



In 1956 St. Paul merged with Minneapolis-Minnesota College of law to become William Mitchell College of Law.  With increased enrollment, a stronger faculty, and more sound finances, W.M.C.L. was accepted for membership in the Association of American Law Schools in 1982. After another merger in 2015, the school is now known as the Mitchell Hamline College of Law.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.  Chief Justice Warren Burger (front row center) was a 1931 Summa Cum Laude graduate of St. Paul College of Law.  Justice Harry Blackmun (second from left back row) taught there and later served as a trustee. ( last accessed 12-17-2017

Bricks and Mortar

Classes began in unused rooms on the fifth floor of the Ramsey County Court House/City Hall.  For seven years the college lived rent free in that building.  For the next seven years, classes were held at various locations.  In 1917 the school moved to the McColl Building at the corner of Fifth and Jackson.  Then in 1921, it moved again to the Berkey Mansion on the corner of Sixth and College, occupying this building until the merger.



Again, given the structure and facilities of S.P.C.L., it is surprising that it sponsored a sports program of any type.  The first mention of sports is in the program for the 1911 annual stag party where toasts were offered to the football, basketball and baseball teams.  College Football Data Warehouse showed a football game in 1914--a 96-0 loss to Johnson High School.  Also in 1914 the basketball team played in the St. Paul City League.

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