Q. While cleaning out a storage space in the law school we ran across a heavy metal plaque dedicated to Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt. What can you tell us about it? –L.F., Berkeley
A. This is
a true History Detective moment!
You have unearthed a long-lost and singularly poignant artifact of the
Boalt Hall story. The plaque was created
as a memorial to Mrs. Boalt immediately after her death in 1917, and once hung
in the reading room of the old Boalt Hall.
It is particularly significant because it was given not by the law
school or by wealthy alums, but by the law students themselves, who dug into
their own pockets and — as the inscription reveals — poured out their
Elizabeth Josselyn Boalt was
the most important early benefactor of the law school. Her gift of $100,000 in 1906 in memory of her
husband, John Henry Boalt, allowed for the construction of the first Boalt
Hall, and she later endowed two professorships.
The Boalts had no personal connection with the University of California,
and while Mrs. Boalt is mentioned in newspaper clippings and memoirs as having
been present at the dedication of the Boalt Memorial Hall of Law, it has always
been unclear how much contact she had with the school and with the law students
once the building opened. This plaque
now uncovers that story.
We have known that the plaque
existed at one point in the school’s history.
In May of 1917 correspondence ping-ponged back and forth between dean
William Carey Jones and architect John Galen Howard debating the proper
placement of a bronze “tablet” in honor of Mrs. Boalt. The gentlemen had difficulty agreeing on the
proper aesthetic placement (a protruding thermostat in the reading room
presented particular problems). Howard
regretted that the plaque was “not more artistic and monumental in character
and more worthy of its purpose and the sentiments expressed.” The law students
perhaps couldn’t afford anything more architecturally impressive, but the words
they chose for the inscription could not have been more heartfelt:
students of the School of Jurisprudence of the University of California deplore
the loss of friend and benefactor in the death of Elizabeth Josselyn
Boalt. Builder of this hall, we feel
that the essence of her spirit, quiet, serene, unostentatious, pervades its
precincts. We pledge our purpose to make
the genius of her gift perennial by ever exhibiting in our law school a tone of
simplicity, of high-mindedness, of unobtrusive but persistent endeavor for the
best. We pledge our own efforts and
those of our successors to keep this temple of law clean and pure and beautiful
through the years, that it may remain a fitting emblem of her personality….
is our grateful task to set down our deep sense of obligation to both Mr. and
Mrs. Boalt, and to express the hope that, through the work of the School of
Jurisprudence and the life lived in Boalt Hall of Law and perpetuated outside,
there shall during all the years to come be manifest in the community a force
and influence that shall tend to realize the desires and aspirations of the two
persons to whose memory we today pay our deep respect and dedicate our earnest
As the Law School celebrates
its centennial this fall, perhaps this would be a good time to restore and
re-install this testament of what Mrs. Boalt once meant to the law students of
the school she so generously endowed.
a question? Ask the Archivist: