The Lincoln College of Law educated prospective lawyers, mostly in night classes, for more than 40 years in Springfield. Many graduates went on to distinguished legal careers.
The school opened on Sept. 4, 1911, sharing space that first year with the Illinois Business College in the old Illinois State Register building in the 600 block of East Monroe Street. The school moved five times in the next 15 years, finally settling at 206 E. Adams St. in 1926. It remained there until closing in 1953.
Lincoln College of Law’s founder was William Wirt Edwards (1853-1930), a Methodist minister, lawyer, and retired college professor from McKendree College in Lebanon, Ill. At McKendree, Edwards had been first a Latin professor and then dean of the law school.
Edwards also was the first of only three deans during the college’s existence. At his death, he was succeeded by William Carey (1880-1947), a 1915 graduate of the school who never practiced law; instead, he worked for the Chicago, Springfield and St. Louis Railway. When Carey died in 1947, assistant dean Jerome Finkle (1891-1982), who also was executive secretary of the Illinois Legislative Reference Bureau, became Lincoln College of Law’s last dean.
President of the school from 1920 until its closing was R. Wells Leib (1895-1959), a lawyer (Lincoln College of Law, class of 1917) and accountant for Franklin Life Insurance.
Lincoln College of Law was advertised as offering a complete study of all branches of the law examined by the state board of law examiners. Lessons consisted mainly of textbook study, recitation, and various branches of law.
Like students, faculty members were part-timers. The first instructors included C.F. Mortimer, one of Springfield’s leading criminal attorneys, who taught criminal law, and W.A. Orr, an attorney and nine-year instructor at Greenville College, who taught law of contracts. W. Edgar Sampson, assistant lllinois attorney general, taught law of evidence, while John G. Friedmeyer taught law of agency. The college also had special lectures by other prominent local lawyers, such as W.A. Northcott, U.S. attorney in Springfield.
Six graduates made up the first graduating class in 1914. The largest class, in 1951, boasted 29 graduates. Most classes numbered in the teens. Only a select few graduated with honors. The final class in 1953 had two, Clell L. Woods and Robert E. Dehen.
A yearbook was first printed in 1914.
Lincoln College of Law was open to all. The class of 1915 included the school’s first Black graduate, Robert P. Taylor, and the 1918 graduates included Kathleen Clyne, the first woman.
Many students came from places like Carbondale, Olney and Chicago to work in Springfield just so they could attend the school. Although there were some day classes, the school operated primarily as a night school, with classes four nights a week.
By the 1925-26 school year, students could earn a bachelor’s degree in law (LLB) in three years or a masters in law (LLM) after four years. A student who had obtained a bachelor’s degree elsewhere before attending Lincoln College of Law would earn a doctorate of law (JD) degree upon graduation.
According to a February 15, 1952, Illinois State Journal article, 375 people graduated from Lincoln College of Law during its existence. (A list compiled by Robert Gasaway for his 1999 self-published pamphlet, Lincoln College of Law: Springfield, Illinois, 1911-1953, comes to 364 graduates.)
The school received a boost from creation of GI Bill educational benefits following World War II, but enrollment declined when that program was phased out in the 1950s.
By then, faculty members — including prominent attorneys like Nelson O. Howarth, Willard Ice, Maurice Scott, Loren Bobbitt and William Fuiten — were working for no salary.
President Leib paid the college’s deficits the last two years. However, Leib became seriously ill, and the school closed its doors following graduation ceremonies for the 18 members of the class of 1953, held in the Sangamon County Circuit Court room on March 26, 1953.
To make sure the remaining undergraduate students completed their coursework, instructors taught classes in their homes or offices. The sophomore class was incorporated into the junior and senior classes, and those students finished their training with local attorneys.
Alumni: Many graduates of Lincoln College of Law went on to distinguished careers. Some of those who leap out of Gasaway’s alumni list include Illinois state treasurer James Donnewald, state Sen. G. William Horsley, Illinois Supreme Court clerk Clell Woods, Horace Mann Insurance co-founder Leslie Nimmo, Springfield School Board president Richard Grummon, Illinois tax expert Maurice Scott, well-known Springfield defense attorney Jack Weiner, and judges Harvey Beam, William D. Conway, Imy Feuer and Paul Verticchio.
Contributor: Kathy Dehen
More information: Lincoln College of Law: Springfield, Illinois, 1911-1953 by Robert Gasaway (1999), an invaluable source on the college, is available in the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library. Transcripts of oral history interviews of Willard Ice, a faculty member, and Maurice Scott, a graduate and later a faculty member, both of whom discuss their experiences at the school, can be read on line.
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My name is Barbra Burdett and I am the eldest daughter of Robert Marlin Baker and I am also a writer and I am writing the life story of Robert Marlin Baker. My question for you is this, I have found the information that my father attended Abraham Lincoln College of Law in Springfield Illinois for 4 years graduating in the upper tenth of class and he was admitted to the bar September 1941, do you have a record of his attending this college? He practiced law in Lincoln, Illinois and I live in Lincoln.
Ms. Burdett: The records Kathy Dehen and I dealt with in Lincoln Library’s Sangamon Valley Collection are described in the article — Bob Gasaway’s pamphlet and the school’s yearbooks (well, some of them; as I recall, the SVC’s collection is good, but incomplete). It’s very possible that other school records are available, however. You should call the Sangamon Valley Collection (217-753-4900 extension 5634); if they don’t have the records themselves, they probably can tell you who does.
Good luck, and thanks for reading.
You might check with the Illinois Board of Higher Education. They were at the Illinois State Board of Education until a few years ago. I worked in the area that had them.
Thank-you everyone for your kind advice and help. I am still working on the book and have this information to add.
Barbra Burdett aka Lucky to have been— Marlins daughter
Hi; I was just browsing and stumbled on your post. I worked for a very short time in the 50’s for a Marlin Baker’s law office in Lincoln Illinois while I was attending college there (Lincoln Bible Institute). I also did some light housework for the Baker family. Mr. Baker was handicapped; but somehow one never thought of him that way as he was proficient in everything. A man with much magnetism in personality who not only drove a car, but I believe piloted a plane. I loved his family; especially youngest son, Robert, who although very young was
very intelligent, showing me how to work the vacuum cleaner, and just about anything else in the home. Good luck on your book. He was a worthy man.
This may not the Marlin Baker whose info you’re seeking, but he was good friends with another student, Wayne Shaw if you need more info of those days
in the 50’s. (I’m 85 and living in an elderly facility in St. Louis).
Jeanette, I am just now finding this email! I am thrilled to have heard from you. I would love all the information I can get. My address is:
1706 1250th Ave.
Lincoln, Illinois 62656
Again thank-you! Robert just came over and I am gong to share your letter with him, he will love it.
Ms. Burdett: In addition to reprinting it here, I’ve forwarded your comment to Ms. Barnett via email. Hope you guys get in touch (if you haven’t already).
My father John Earle Williams was pictured with group as 1926 graduate …could you give me more information as to the level of degree he received and any other pertinent information you have regarding that person? Thank you so very much.
Ms. Nelson: It’s been a while since that entry was published, and I don’t have any notes on it any longer. Your best bet is to contact the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library in Springfield ((217) 753-4900 ext. 5634). They might be able to help. And thanks for reading SangamonLink.