Frances Farmer, the first female law professor at the University of Virginia Law School, began her relationship with the Law School after accepting a position as a Senior Cataloguer and Executive Secretary in 1942. By 1944 she was teaching a legal bibliography class and had been appointed Law Librarian. After retiring in 1976 she was designated Professor Emerita by the Board of Vistors of the University.
Studying at Westhampton College, Farmer majored in history. In 1933, Farmer enrolled at T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond, earning her LL.B. degree. She was the only female in her law class, and she graduated with honors. The O.H. Berry Medal was awarded to Farmer, a distinguished honor given to the best all-around graduate in law. Despite her outstanding academic record, she learned that good positions for female lawyers were difficult to obtain. Farmer's experience as a Law Librarian began when she entered the T.C. Williams School of Law and became their Assistant Law Librarian, in addition to serving as Secretary to the Dean from 1933-38. In 1934, in the absence of the Law Librarian, Farmer performed the Law Library’s administrative work, including accessioning, selecting and purchasing books and keeping financial records. After completing a course in Law Library Administration at the School of Library Service at Columbia University, Farmer was appointed Law Librarian at the University of Richmond in 1938. She joined the American Association of Law Libraries and became a member of the Committee on the Library Journal. In July 1942, Farmer accepted the position of Senior Cataloguer and Executive Secretary at the University of Virginia Law Library. The UVA Law Library had fewer than 40,000 books, all of them needing to be catalogued. Farmer’s duties included completing the cataloguing project and implementing a library purchasing program. In 1944, she was appointed Law Librarian. Under her leadership, the UVA Law Library grew to 100,000 cataloged volumes by the early 1950s.
Due to inadequate state funding to support the growth of the UVA Law Library, Farmer sought financial support from the Law School Alumni Association. They were willing to match or exceed state money. A life-long partnership was forged, which helped to make the Law Library achieve national recognition. In return, Farmer gave unstintingly to the Alumni Association, overseeing the annual spring alumni weekend and serving 16 years as Secretary/Treasurer of the Association. Farmer gained faculty status at the UVA Law School, becoming the first female law professor. She was active in many organizations, including the American Association of Law Libraries, which she served as president in 1959-60; the Virginia State Bar Association; University of Richmond alumni groups; Phi Beta Kappa; and Order of the Coif. She was a consultant to many U.S. law libraries and to the government law library in Nigeria. She retired in August, 1976, and she became a library consultant to the Center of Oceans Law and Policy at the Law School. She was designated Professor Emerita by the UVA Board of Visitors, and her alma mater awarded her an honorary degree in recognition of her outstanding achievements in law librarianship. In retirement, Farmer compiled an oral history of the second century of the UVA Law School. A Law School Alumni Association Resolution recognized Frances Farmer's contributions at the 30-year mark stated, "As a result of her creative mind, an inexhaustible supply of energy, resourcefulness and ability, and her indomitable spirit, the Law Library at the University of Virginia has grown and prospered." Frances Farmer died in 1993.