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The Glorious Past of S240 and S245

By Merle Slyhoff, Collection Development and Interlibrary Loan Librarian

You're sitting in S240A or B. Your mind wanders for a minute and you look up. Hmmm, never noticed the bas relief laurels or fruit before. And hey, the wood in here is really nice. I wonder what this used to be?

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Penn formally created a chair in law in 1817, as part of a new faculty of natural science. In 1850 the University formally created a Law School, with classes held at 9th and Chestnut Streets, with students using the bar association's library at the Philadelphia Atheneum on 6th street. In 1887, the law school received a bequest of books from the prominent Philadelphia attorney, George Biddle, who had died in 1886. This bequest became the collection known as the George Biddle Memorial Library. The Biddle family added to the collection in 1889 and 1897. When the Law School moved to its current location on campus in 1901, the Biddle Memorial Library totaled some 20,000 titles.

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The Biddle Law Library, as it came to be known,was located on the second floor of Lewis Hall, now Silverman Hall, requiring a walk up the grand marble staircase every time a student or faculty member needed a book or a place to study. A close look at the staircase shows the worn-away imprint of thousands of footsteps. At the top of the stairs, through large, studded leather doors, you entered the library. To the left and right were the main reading rooms, Sharswood Hall (now Silverman 240A and B) and Goodrich Hall (now Levy Hall). George Sharswood (1810-1883) was Penn's first Professor of Law in 1850, and in 1852 became the first Dean of the Law School. Herbert Goodrich was the Dean from 1929-1940, and in 1940 was appointed a judge of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals by President Roosevelt.

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In 1992, Tannenbaum Hall was opened and became the new home of Biddle Law Library. The year 2000 saw the completion of the restoration and renovation of the second floor of Silverman Hall, resulting in classrooms S240A and A240B, and Levy Hall. The large wooden tables with the brass light fixtures that sit between S240 and S240B are just two of the many tables that once filled the Goodrich and Sharswood Reading Rooms.

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So, the next time you are in Silverman Hall, take a moment and look around S240 and Levy, and think of the thousands of former law students who once walked the same path (and studied the same cases!).

*Interested in more Penn Law History? Check out the past Reports (Penn Law's Yearbooks) and "A Living Science and a Present Art": A History of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in the library.