The Law School began offering something like a full-time program for the first time in 1850, when George Sharswood joined the tiny faculty as a professor. Sharswood originated a broad, two-year course of study embracing subjects such as international law, constitutional law, corporations, mercantile and real estate law, and jurisprudence. Two years later, in 1852, the Faculty of Law was officially re-established at the University and the faculty expanded to three. At this time Sharwood was made Dean of the Law School.
The idea of a dedicated school for the study of law was a controversial one in Sharswood’s day. He had studied law in the offices of Joseph R. Ingersoll and always believed there was no substitute for practical experience in a law office. Sharswood nevertheless insisted on the value of a liberal legal education.
“If the legal profession requires in those who would honorably occupy its ranks the highest intellectual attainments as well as the purest moral qualities,” he said, “if it is a public rather than a private calling; and exercises a most powerful influence in the making as well as the administration of the laws, the importance of liberal, sound and thorough legal education will not be questioned.”
Sharswood saw law school as a place where students could acquire wholesome habits of mind.
“I have endeavored,” he said in a lecture on education, “to illustrate and enforce a very old opinion, but still true, that there is no royal road to learning — that hurrying, and crowding, and cramming are injurious if not fatal to the vigor of mind as well as of the body.” He believed that “there are two lessons, which cannot be too often and too solemnly impressed on the mind. One is that constant, moderate, well-tempered exercise is the law of mental, as it is of physical, improvement. The other is more difficult to realize, but equally important; that it is better to know a little accurately and perfectly than a great deal superficially and imperfectly.”
In addition to teaching, Sharswood served two terms in the Pennsylvania State Legislature. In 1845, he was commissioned a judge of the District Court of Philadelphia. Sharswood was elevated the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1867, precipitating his 1868 retirement from teaching. He became Chief Justice in 1872, retiring in 1882 at the end of his term.
Founded by the Editorial Board of Volume 155 of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the Sharswood Fellowship was created in 2007 to encourage scholars committed to entering a career in legal academia. The Law School has since expanded the program.