The Story of an Extraordinary Exam
In June of 1932, Thomas W. Blake, Jr. sat down to take an exam in Equity Pleading. It was the end of Blake's second year at the University of Virginia School of Law and he may already have decided to transfer to a school closer to home in the fall. The Great Depression had so dissipated his Texas family's formerly substantial wealth that the young Blake was supporting himself through school by playing the banjo.
But first there was the Equity Pleading exam to deal with. Equity courts, which traditionally operate separately from law courts, temper the rule of law by allowing judges to consult their consciences and promote fairness in their rulings. By 1932, equity courts were on the wane in the United States: a majority of states had adopted (at least partially) the Field Code, which merged the principles of law and equity into one system. Similar changes on the federal level would lead, in a few years, to the promulgation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (1938). In the meantime, Virginia Law students were still responsible for learning both historical and current rules of equity pleading.
Thomas W. Blake, Jr.
Their guide to the subject was Garrard Glenn, a law professor who in 1927 had been recruited away from a successful practice in New York to teach full time at Virginia. Glenn had already written four books by the time Thomas Blake took his Equity class, and he was just beginning a two-decade period of prolific legal scholarship. In later years, one of Glenn's colleagues would assert that "Every student he ever taught will agree he was a great teacher," and another colleague would claim that his own greatest contribution to the Law School was persuading Garrard Glenn to join its faculty.
Blake was the subject of his daughter's documentary, Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me
We cannot know what inspired the choice, but Blake decided to write his exam in verse, maintaining the rhythm of iambic pentameter throughout his response and occasionally striking rhymes. On the inside front cover of the exam booklet, he composed a rhymed "Apologetica," offering Glenn a little humorous relief from the "strain" of writing and grading exams. "I hope it will not go against the grain," Blake added. It seems that Glenn approved: pencil markings on the exam booklet include just two minor grammatical corrections and a notation of "First" on the inside cover.
After leaving the University of Virginia, Blake completed his law degree at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, then returned to his native Houston and embarked on a successful career as a lawyer and businessman. Blake would go on to earn millions in the oil industry and lead a colorful life, marrying a succession of beautiful women, hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, and traveling the world to play golf. He designed a golf course on his property, now open to the public as the Blaketree National Golf Club, and a few years before his death in 2001, he participated in his daughter's documentary film, Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me.
Exam in Equity Pleading, 1932 [Digitized]
Questions by Professor Garrard Glenn of the University of Virginia School of Law. Responses by Thomas W. Blake, Jr. Scanned and transcribed from the original exam booklet held by Special Collections at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library, University of Virginia. Digital edition by Kristin Jensen, Elizabeth Ladner, and Amy Wharton, 2010.