Through the Deacdes: 1920s

As the Twenties in America began to roar, Boalt Hall settled into a period of Jazz Age gentility, a time of racoon coats, cloche hats, hip flasks, and student “smokers” where fine points of the law were debated in a blue tobacco haze. The communal student telephone in the basement of the law school had been removed for the duration of the Great War, but in October 1919 it was reinstalled and law students were once again hooked into a wide world madly careening toward 1929.

The architecture of the Boalt Hall building was strongly hierarchical, as revealed in the published Rules of Conduct that made sure every law student knew his (and her) place. “Men students of the first year class are reminded that they must study in the basement reading room and not in the main reading room. Study privilege in the Attic is confined to third year students.” Gender segregation was meticulous. Women students found themselves corralled mid-building, in an alcove of the reading room set aside especially for them. Much more pleasant as a study space than either the basement or the attic, the “women’s corner” of the library was perhaps a gilded cage for those confined to it, since the dreary extremities of the building were out of bounds.

In the 1920s life at the school was regulated by the Law Association, and the student group was jealous of its privileges. “Telephone, tobacco, newspapers, magazines and ink are furnished to members of the Law Association and are paid for out of the dues paid to the Law Association. The use of these articles is restricted to those persons who have paid their dues.” Students were further admonished not to slide upon the floors, use the public telephone for long distance calls, or tilt chairs back against walls. “We want you to feel at home,” one list of rules and regulations commented sarcastically. “If you spit on the floor at home do it here.”

At mid-decade the faculty consisted of seven full professors, one associate professor, one assistant professor, and eight lecturers. The minimum annual salary for a Boalt Hall professor was set at $5000. In a refrain that would become routine over the years, the faculty warned that “unless the above minimum is paid to teachers of the professorial rank the present staff cannot be retained, nor can new men of the requisite experience and ability be obtained. The prevailing salary level in other schools of equal grade is in excess of this minimum.”

Boalt Hall was a small community that provided intensive supervision of each student. Large parts of many faculty meetings were set aside to discuss the scholarly progress of individual students, singled out by name. In one meeting alone in 1922 the academic progress of a total of forty-six students was discussed in some detail, and appropriate measures adopted. William Hillman would be warned that in the future he “must do better.” Evan Bramlage was bluntly told he should not return. The ailing James Kimber was advised “to remain south until recovered.” Edwyna Hunter was notified that she would be on probation “if she falls below C in Property and Business Law.” Herbert Olney was officially reprimanded “on account of irregularity in attendance.” William Brown was notified “that he was a disappointment in courses.”

Over eighty percent of the law students came from somewhere in California, and the ambiance of Boalt Hall reflected the state’s aspirations to rise above its hardscrabble origins to attain a level of sophistication and refinement. The Rules of Conduct concluded with a warning to yokels and bumpkins and spitters: “It is the sentiment of the students of Boalt Hall that no man enter the upper floors of the building with his hat upon his head. The reasons which we deem sufficient for this suggestion will suggest themselves to persons who respect their School and are willing to pay such respect.”


Notice – Latest updates on COVID-19 policies and resources for the UC Berkeley campus community. — View Details