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History

Philadelphia is the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution. Millions around the globe are inspired by the decisions made here, which laid the bedrock foundation for the American legal system.

James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, framer of the Constitution and member of the first U.S. Supreme Court, in 1790 delivered the University of Pennsylvania’s first lectures in law to President George Washington and all the members of his Cabinet. 

Following this auspicious beginning, Penn began offering a full-time program in law in 1850, under the leadership of George Sharswood, an innovator in legal education. Since that time, Penn Law has been at the forefront of legal education in our country.

Penn Law Firsts

1852 American Law Register (renamed Law Review in 1908) is the nation’s oldest continuously published legal periodical.

1878 American Bar Association founded.

1881 First woman, Carrie Burnham Kilgore, admitted to Penn Law.

1888 First African American man, Aaron Albert Mossell, graduates from Penn Law.

1893 First pro bono project, the “Legal Aid Dispensary” formed by a student club.

1894 First endowed chair, Biddle Professorship, established at Penn Law.

1898 First LLM degree offered.

1923 American Law Institute founded at Penn Law.

1927 First African American woman, Sadie Turner Mossell (Alexander), graduates (and also was the first African-American woman in the country to earn a PhD.) 

1969 First woman, Martha Alschuler Field, joins the faculty.

1989 First elite law school to establish a 70-hour mandatory public service requirement.

2000 First law school to win the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award. 

2009 First-of-its-kind JD/MBA at Penn Law and Wharton launched.

2011 Dean Michael A. Fitts convenes first-ever U.S.-China Law Deans Summit in Beijing.

2012 Inaugural Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander ED’18, GR’21, L’27 Professor of Civil Rights and the Law School’s first Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Dorothy Roberts appointed.

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