Skip to main content

Legal Knowledge Podcast Episode - S1E3

A Library Podcast

Legal Knowledge

Release Date: April 12, 2023

3. John B. Minor and the New Era of Legal Education

Legal Knowledge 


Episode 3 Interview 


Interview published: April 12, 2023 


Transcript created: February 20, 2023 


Host: Meggan Cashwell, Arthur J. Morris Law Library, University of Virginia  


Guest: Randi Flaherty, Head of Special Collections, Arthur J. Morris Law Library, University of Virginia 


—Musical Introduction— 


Meggan Cashwell  00:11 

This is Legal Knowledge, a podcast that chronicles the two-hundred-year history of the Law School at the University of Virginia. I'm your host, Meggan Cashwell. In this inaugural season, I'm sitting down with a group of scholars to discuss the first hundred years of UVA Law from Thomas Jefferson's founding vision for the Law School in 1819, to coeducation in 1920. Each of these scholars is writing a chapter for the Law School’s forthcoming volume on legal education at UVA, for which I'm an editor. In every episode, I'll chat with one of our authors to find out the approach they've taken in their chapter and the stories they've discovered along the way. 


On this episode, I'm talking with Dr. Randi Flaherty of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at UVA about John Barbee Minor, who served as the University's law professor from 1845 to 1895. During this time, legal education was slowly professionalizing not just in Virginia, but in the broader US. Now, Minor’s classes won't look very familiar to us today. They began in Pavilion X, his home in Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village, and later moved to the Rotunda, where he famously outlined his extensive lectures on the blackboard before each class. In Minor's fifty-year tenure, he mentored thousands of students and became an esteemed legal educator, particularly in the American South. But, as Randi will discuss with us, he also used his teaching to justify laws that upheld slavery, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Minor’s lasting influence on UVA Law is indisputable, but we continue to reckon with his legacy. 


Meggan Cashwell 01:56 

Randi, thank you so much for joining us. 


Randall Flaherty  01:59 

Thanks, Meggan. It's great to be here. 


Meggan Cashwell  02:00 

Well, let's provide our listeners with an overview of legal education at UVA up to 1845. In a prior episode, David Konig, who is writing the first chapter of this book, gave us a really wonderful look at Jefferson's vision for the Law School and the broader legal landscape of the time. But I do think it's helpful to revisit this history as a starting point for our conversation. So, when was the Law School founded and why? 


Randall Flaherty  02:25 

The Law School was founded, along with UVA, as one of its original schools in 1819. It opened its doors in 1826, when the first classes arrived under Professor John Lomax. And the Law School was shaped very significantly by Thomas Jefferson, with his ideas about growing academic legal education as a way for young men to study legal science to understand the grand principles of the law. Not only on that sort of high philosophical level, but also because through his idea that understanding the principles would allow people to practice on the ground and he wanted to elevate the legal profession, which is something that John Minor followed when he came to UVA. So, the law program opens, first class is 1826. It was originally taught in Pavilion III, which was the home on the Lawn of John Tayloe Lomax, the first law professor, and it was eventually moved to Pavilion X when the law professor moved there. In these early years, the law program was quite small compared to what it would eventually become. But John Lomax started with somewhere around twenty-nine students and sort of in this, these early years, the law enrollment really was between thirty and forty students. 


Meggan Cashwell  03:28 

Could you tell us, who was John Barbee Minor and how did he become the law professor at UVA? 


Randall Flaherty  03:34 

John Barbee Minor was a Virginian through and through, and he was also UVA man, two things that really defined his life. He was born in 1813 in Louisa County, Virginia, which is in central Virginia, very close to Charlottesville. He was born on a property called Minor’s Folly, a family home. The property was an agricultural property, the family enslaved a number of people to work this property, to labor for the family. His father, Launcelot Minor, was a gentleman farmer, but also sort of an amateur lawyer who served in legal capacities for people in the region, sort of executors for estates. So, John Minor would have seen that growing up. He eventually went to college, first to Kenyon College in Ohio and only lasted a semester, and then actually walked back to Virginia when he left there. And came to the University of Virginia and he embraced the liberal arts nature of the University, which allowed students to pick their own course of classes in schools. He took classes in math, in chemistry, in languages, and also in law, and he graduated from the law program in 1834. He went on to practice as a lawyer in Virginia, and so he writes about going to court days in the neighboring counties. It was a practice that excited him, it really exhausted him. He saw sort of the wild, wild west nature of the Virginia legal profession. In 1845, when the position to be the law professor at UVA opened up, it really excited him to teach the legal science of his profession, as he said. At the time teaching in an academic legal program wasn't—didn't have the grandeur that we might think. So, UVA was looking at a number of different people for this position. It was a competitive position, people pretty distinguished in the field, so judges and sort of well-known lawyers. And here's John Minor, who's quite young and quite new, but he was a known figure at UVA. He had graduated from there, he’d done very well. He had tutored the sons of his law professor, John Davis. In 1844, he had presided over the UVA moot court. He's very smart and has a good reputation. He put in his name, and he got some recommendations from a brother-in-law, William Blackford in Fredericksburg, to put in a good word, and he got the job. 


Meggan Cashwell  05:38 

Well, you mentioned that he studied under JAG Davis at UVA. Who were Minor’s legal influences beyond JAG Davis? I'm thinking about, perhaps, the writers of legal treatises that may have impacted his teaching and his curriculum. 


Randall Flaherty  05:53 

On a personal level, he had a couple of direct mentors. His father, Launcelot Minor, was influential, his brother, Lucien Minor, who later taught law at William & Mary, was influential, and John Minor actually practiced with his brother for a while. His law professor, John A. G. Davis, was influential. Minor knew him not only in the classroom, but also, as I mentioned, tutored the Davis sons and so would have spent a good deal of time in the Davis household in Pavilion X. John Minor also married into the Davis family after law school. So, on a personal level, those are his mentors. On a bigger level, thinking about legal thinkers, John Minor was very much influenced by Sir Edward Coke, who was an English jurist, around the Elizabethan times. And Coke’s writings, as they did with Jefferson, were very influential and sort of foundational for John Minor. John Minor incorporated Coke into his teachings and his readings. John Minor was also very influenced by Jefferson. And I think Jefferson's idea of a university, of academic legal education, of legal science, thinking of law as a set of principles that, once known, can help us understand how to act in particular cases. That not only principles, but principles that could be organized, similar to how we sort of think about biology and organizing species, these legal principles could be organized and, once organized, provide not only a clarity, but a truth. That very high-level way of thinking about law, the way that Jefferson thought about law was very similar to how Minor thought about it. Also, the idea of a liberal arts education that Jefferson promoted and implemented at the University of Virginia was—Minor was really on board with, and he spoke about how it was really important for these youth to come and be able to set their own course, to choose their classes, and to understand through this liberal arts education, to get a broad knowledge. So, he understood law as having strong, historical connections, especially the common law. It came from these historical societies. And so, to understand law, you also had to understand society. 


Meggan Cashwell  07:56 

Randi, you mentioned Coke and you mentioned Jefferson. And in that earlier episode that I referenced with David Konig, he talked to us about Jefferson's very strong and particular opinions on what the law curriculum should look like. And so, one theorist that Jefferson chooses that we haven't talked about is William Blackstone, who has great influence over the law curriculum in the nineteenth century. Could you talk about Minor’s feelings on Blackstone? 


Randall Flaherty  08:23 

Blackstone was a critical part of the law curriculum as one of the foundational texts, especially for this junior class of law students. Oftentimes Minor would follow Blackstone's books and Blackstone's outline as a way to organize his lectures. Jefferson actually hoped that law students would be taught Coke first. He had a beef with Blackstone because he was sort of pernicious, because he was so easy to read and Coke was so dense.  


Meggan Cashwell  08:48 

Minor had a very lengthy tenure of fifty years, so I do want to break this down a bit. What changes did he make to the curriculum in the initial years of his tenure, so the 1840s and 1850s? 


Randall Flaherty  08:59 

When he first arrives, I don't think it was as much making changes as it was continuing on an important legacy that he saw. When he gave his inaugural address as the law professor in 1845, he talked about the importance not only of law but of lawyers as officiating at this temple of justice, as being the protector of rights for the society for those who needed this help. And so being a lawyer was a really important role, and that's something that, that Jefferson and the predecessors in the law department promoted as sort of this idealized idea that lawyers were these statesmen-leaders. Philosophically, I think he's very much in line with that, and it’s about keeping that, and as well as the liberal arts element, alive. He maintained this junior and senior structure, which had already been in place in the law program. The junior class was introduction to the common law, introduction to basic principles. That's the grounding class. And then the senior class would get more specialized, more particular, more into the nitty-gritties of legal practice. And students could take both of these classes, they could take one and then the other, they could take them over one year, two years, it was really kind of loosey-goosey in terms of how you're doing that. And that's one thing that John Minor started to change a little bit. He did maintain that structure, but in 1851 he actually starts advocating to bring on another law professor, James Holcombe, seeing that he can't do it all, he doesn't have the specialization to teach all these subjects. He recommends bringing on James Holcombe, who eventually does come on as a second professor, to teach other topics such as civil law, such as mercantile law, equity. Only six years after John Minor started, he's thinking about elevating the profession through a little bit more of a specialization. And when he brings Holcombe on, he also writes about how people coming out of our program in just one year isn't going to happen anymore. In order to graduate, you’re really going to have to spend two years. So, there's still a very loose nature to the law program, but he tries to start implementing, very early on, more of a more exclusive focus on law within his students. 


Meggan Cashwell  11:00 

Well, when I think about the makeup of the current Law School, I think of professional students who have undergraduate degrees and maybe even some level of graduate work or work experience. And then I also know that the class of 2023, that women comprise the majority for the first time in the Law School's history. So, who were Minor’s students, in a very broad sense? 


Randall Flaherty  11:24 

Minor’s students were white men, particularly from the South. To get into UVA, you had to be sixteen years of age, and white and male. Minor’s students particularly, really throughout his tenure, came from the South with very few exceptions. You didn't have to have any kind of previous degree, although he really hoped that his students would come with educational training in history, in philosophy, from their primary education. But they didn't have to come with any kind of expectation of graduation. They could, but they could also come just sort of eager to gain legal knowledge, which he thought was really useful for basically anyone in society, doctors, clergyman. He thought that an element of legal knowledge was useful. Even though he implements, in his mind at least—you need to be here for two years if you're going to graduatethe program maintains that flexibility because he wants it to be accepting for people on different tracks. 


Meggan Cashwell  12:20 

Randi, would you paint a picture for us of the law classroom at the time? What was it like to be a student in John Minor’s class? 


Randall Flaherty  12:28 

If you were a student and John Minor’s class, you need to be prepared to take a lot of notes. His class was set up as a mixture of textbook, lecture, and examination. Law classes were about an hour and a half, and you would come to the class and the first thing that would happen would be these daily examinations. And that was true across UVA, this was in the enactments of UVA, so all classes were like this. He would quiz you on the readings and the lectures, usually what you’d talked about a couple days ahead of time, but he would make sure people knew it. And there's this great document where in one of his early years of teaching, he actually wrote down how much of the class was spent on these daily recitations and how much was spent on lecture. But I think it's really interesting that at the beginning of the semester, a lot of time on lecture, end of the semester, a lot more time on quizzing people, and you can imagine people getting overwhelmed by the stuff and needing some more time to talk it through. So, there was this back-and-forth conversational aspect of the class throughout his career, and he really thought holistically about the learning process. That you had to mix writing and reading and talking in order to really fully digest these concepts. But the other thing that then happened was the lecture, and John Minor came to every class with very detailed lecture notes that he would write on the blackboard. And then his students would furiously scribble down. Even by the 1850s and 1860s, he's writing to printers saying: Could you maybe print these notes up so I can sell them to my students instead of me having to write them down, because we're both tired of this labor. So, there was a lot, there were a lot of notes to be had from these lectures. He knew exactly where he wanted to go with every single lecture, and that goes back to his idea of law as these sets of principles that must be organized in order to be understood. And so, he had these very structured outlines. You can imagine this going down in the Rotunda, which is where the classes were eventually taught. There's these reports about how students would line up before these classes to get in to get a jump on the note taking, they would have to stay after class to finish copying these notes. And they're doing this in their student notebooks, which they then might take home and later copy over as a way of again, memorizing this material, digesting this material, and maybe fixing the handwriting from the scribbles in class. 


Meggan Cashwell  14:43 

Well, I read a lot of these student notebooks and so I can attest to the fact that they did, in fact, very much write furiously in these courses, which makes them pretty atrocious to read in modern times, but nonetheless very helpful. Let's take a short break, and when we come back, we'll discuss Minor’s role as a mentor and the coming of the Civil War. 


—Musical Break— 


Rebecca Barry  15:11 

Want to learn more about the history of the University of Virginia School of Law? Consider stopping by the Arthur J. Morris Law Library, located within the Law School in Charlottesville, Virginia. Explore the library and check out our rotating exhibits, or come to the Special Collections reading room to dig deeper into some of the sources we reference in our episodes. You can also visit the Special Collections website at, where you'll find digitized archival material, oral histories, and online exhibitions covering topics like UVA’s first law library, the Scottish Court of Session papers, law student activism during the 1970s, and student organizations, including Virginia Law Women and the Black Law Students Association. Again, that's 


—Musical Break— 


Meggan Cashwell  16:06 

We're back with Dr. Randi Flaherty, and we're talking about Professor John Minor's teaching style and the general state of legal education at UVA. Randi, so much of what you describe before the break about the teaching of law and the Pavilions, it sounds a little bit unique to UVA. How does legal education at UVA compare with that of other established US law schools at this time? 


Randall Flaherty  16:29 

UVA, because law was taught in these pavilions, at least for part of the time that John B. Minor was there, there's this domestic-academic space, this mix of those spaces, which is different from other academic law schools. Now it is kind of similar to the apprenticeship model, or how other lawyers may have trained with, with practicing lawyers in an office or a home. John B. Minor’s, one of his major hopes was to help his students organize the common law. And that was very common through a lot of legal thinkers in this time. In that element, UVA was similar to other law schools. But John B. Minor really thought of his competition, or he always compared himself to what's going on at Harvard. Whether that was right or wrong, that's what he did. Harvard was very different at this time. We talked about how at UVA, you could maybe come to law school for a year, you can maybe come for two years, you could maybe graduate, but most people didn't. There's only one, maybe two law professors. Very different from Harvard, where the goal is to graduate practicing lawyers. So, the classes were more specialized, there's more faculty, and there's just a stronger emphasis on teaching legal practice. 


Meggan Cashwell  17:34 

You mentioned a little bit earlier about Minor’s office in Pavilion X. That brings me to this question of Minor’s mentorship role that he had with his students. I've come across a number of examples in my research, where students talk about visiting Minor in Pavilion X, coming to his office, and this is even after classes have moved to the Rotunda. And then of course, we know that Minor invited his students to dine with him, which I assume was common practice at UVA in general for other professors also living on the Lawn. We have some striking examples of the students that Minor mentored, including the President, Woodrow Wilson. Could you tell us a little bit about what this mentorship looked like and what it meant to these students? 


Randall Flaherty  18:15 

Minor took his role as mentor very seriously. He lived in Pavilion X, he had his office there. Students would come, just as you're saying, having dinner with him, with his family, meeting with him in his office to talk about their trajectories. And we have a couple examples of students, they're arriving at UVA for the first time, they're setting up their room, they're finding out where to live, and they go straight to John Minor to talk about what to do next. And he would ask them: Are you going to graduate, are you not? He's very invested in his students as, as students, but also as people. I think that goes back to his understanding of liberal arts education as being someone's sort of personal journey. He's also very big on discipline and believes that mentorship and cultivating good social behaviors is really important at this phase of education. That's another reason why he takes on this mentorship role. He remained a mentor for his students after they graduated, after they left and went into practice. There's letters that his students write him, they’re practicing in some Virginia county, they're saying: I've got this case, what do you think about this? He remains very involved in that way. 


Meggan Cashwell  19:17 

He's training these men to go on and be attorneys, primarily in Virginia. And so, what about his curriculum is distinctly Southern? 


Randall Flaherty  19:27 

When he taught laws, he taught Virginia laws. And he did that with the idea that students, even if they're learning Virginia laws and had to go practice elsewhere, they could sort of use their logic and their understanding of Virginia code to understand other states. So, he's deeply embedded in Virginia and federal law. The other element of being a very Southern teacher is his teaching of slavery, and his teaching of slavery as a social good. And much like his predecessors, he talks about how slavery cannot be justified in law, and he references Blackstone. But at the same time, he teaches his students that society has come to be so reliant on it that we cannot end it, and that it has benefits for both Black and white individuals.  


Meggan Cashwell  20:06 

And of course, this is reflective of the fact that Minor is himself a slaveholder, correct? Or an enslaver, rather. 


Randall Flaherty  20:12 

Yes, he was an enslaver at Pavilion X. A community of enslaved people lived and labored there for the Minor family, as well as his other family properties in the area. He rented out enslaved people, he bought and sold them. This community of people would have been present in the Pavilion X area, where the students would have come and understood this as sort of a normal part of Southern life. 


Meggan Cashwell  20:34 

We can't talk about Minor’s fifty-year tenure without addressing the Civil War, even though this will be a topic for other podcast episodes as well. I'd like to stay within the framework of Minor’s teaching. Did the Law School stay open during the Civil War? 


Randall Flaherty  20:50 

Yes. Minor continued to teach, the Law School, the University, continued to stay open. Enrollment numbers were very, very, very low. So, I think at one point Minor was teaching three or four students. These were Confederate veterans who had been injured in the war and could no longer fight. There's a story of two students, one was missing a leg and one was missing an arm, these are their battle injuries, and so they had to help each other even take notes in class. This was a place where the Confederacy was very, very present. Although he was a Whig, and he was a Unionist for much of the run up to the Civil War to secession, he did very much support secession in 1861, and the Confederacy. He thought, particularly, that the North was looking to bring a premature end to slavery. So, slavery was really core—and maintaining slavery, I should say, was really core to his support for the Confederacy. 


Meggan Cashwell  21:46 

You know, there is a story that I think people are challenging that Minor was sort of a savior during the Civil War. Could you speak to that a bit? 


Randall Flaherty  21:54 

Yes, there's a very famous story of John Minor, who was one of the very esteemed faculty members at the time, going out with some of his colleagues, meeting the Union Army, and quite literally waving the flag of truce and saving the University from what he expected was pillage at the hands of the Union Army, and allowing the University to continue. There's many accounts of that. One element of Minor kind of emerging from the Civil War is this strong conservatism. He's saving the University, but he's also sort of letting these ideas that he's been teaching continue. Society may be changing, but he's looking to the past and teaching the past. So, for example, his teaching of slavery continues even in his publications in 1870, 1895. He talks about slavery in Virginia. He's citing Thomas Dew about the benefits of slavery for Black Virginians. It takes on a historical bent, but nonetheless, this racial stratification of society persists in his teaching. We think about how did the Civil War change his teachings, one of the most notable things is how it really didn't change all that much. 


Meggan Cashwell  22:58 

And of course, in the decades coming after the Civil War, this is a topic for Professor Liz Varon’s chapter, Minor continues to teach men to go on and create Jim Crow laws. Let's take another break, and then when we come back, we'll talk about Minor’s legacy today. 


—Musical Break— 


Meggan Cashwell  23:24 

If you're enjoying Legal Knowledge, we've got more content for you on our website, including short interviews, field recordings, photographs, and some of the archival materials we discuss with our contributors. Randi and I visited Pavilion X and another site on Grounds where we continued our discussion of John Minor. You can give those interviews a listen, and view images of Minor and Pavilion X, at Now back to the episode. 


—Musical Break— 


Meggan Cashwell  23:58 

We’re back with Randi Flaherty, and we have been talking about John Minor’s tenure and teaching at UVA Law. Randi, would you tell us, what changes had occurred in the UVA Law curriculum and in legal education broadly by the time Minor passed away in 1895?  


Randall Flaherty  24:15 

The biggest change, I would say, over the course of the nineteenth century, was that law became more solidly grounded as a topic to be studied and taught in a university, versus learning through an apprenticeship. The idea that law was a science was a big justification for that change. That science could only really be properly taught in a classroom in a university versus just learning through practice. When John Minor started in 1845, he took the job and was excited to teach the science of his profession. In the 1870s, John Minor published his Institutes of Common Law and Statute Law. This brought him a great deal of renown, it was a huge, four-volume set. It was basically a gigantic outline of these legal principles, an homage to his idea that law was a product of society, of historical societies, particularly the Anglo-Saxon society. But also that studying law meant analyzing and organizing legal principles. That law was made up of legal principles, and once they were outlined and once they were organized, they could be properly understood. So, law was a deductive science. And that really played well to his method of teaching, in which in the classroom he would go through Blackstone’s outline and organize these principles for his students. It’s notable that at the same time that Minor finally published his Institutes, Langdell up at Harvard is starting the case method. The case method was based on a similar idea that law is a science, a deductive science, that law has legal principles, but it’s very different from how John Minor was teaching at UVA. John Minor looked to history, looked to these treatises and these thinkers as a way to teach law. Langdell looked to appellate cases. There was a dialectical method, so he went back and forth with the students, there’s an experimentation. The classroom becomes a different type of laboratory for a different type of science that was really not in line with how John Minor would have taught. 


Meggan Cashwell  26:02 

And of course, it really takes some of the younger faculty coming in who have studied at some of those schools to actually bring the case method to UVA. It’s not until the 1930s until it really takes hold. 

Could you paint us another picture here, then, of the state of the law program in the 1890s? I mean, we started out with tens of students. The Law School has weathered the Civil War, Minor is famous in the South at this point, and as you said, people are coming to study with him. What does the law program look like? Who is there? 


Randall Flaherty  26:33 

It’s, I think, remarkably similar in many ways. So, when John Minor started, the law classes were around forty people. One of thenot really remarkable in terms of numbers, versus the rest of the University, meaning a high percentage of students, but when he leaves the law program is really one of the biggest at UVA, and it’s around—over a hundred people enrolled in it. So, it's grown a good bit, takes up a larger percentage of the UVA students. It’s quite famous in the South; he is quite famous in the South. But it's also really grounded in teachings of the common law. There's only a few people on the faculty. So, nationally there's growing emphasis on specialization, on classes that are much more focused on how to do commercial law, thinking about the expansion of manufacturing, and sort of law dealing with this growth of business, and a specialization there that is really not present at UVA at the time. And it's really not until John Minor dies, and UVA starts hiring additional faculty, that that happens. So, in many ways, UVA held on to its focus on these general classes in the common law, and it did include some classes on more specialized topics, but that really didn't change until after John Minor. 


Meggan Cashwell  27:43 

This is a big question, I have to admit, but why do you think Minor is such an important figure in the Law School's history? 


Randall Flaherty  27:50 

Well, John Minor was very famous in the South as a legal educator, and his name brought a lot of focus to the University. He was very dedicated throughout his career to growing the reputation of the University, to making it known as a leading academic institution. He did bring renown to the University. And, again, we should be clear that this was a university that was white only and male only. But he remains important, not only because of what he did in his life and the publications, but also because his family continues to be very active in the law program. His two sons, who were both graduates, go on to teach. His more distant relatives go on to become the dean later, with William Minor Lile. So, he really maintains a presence, and a celebrated presence, within the University community into the mid-twentieth century. 


Meggan Cashwell  28:44 

And how are we grappling with John Minor’s legacy on Grounds today, particularly his role as an enslaver? 


Randall Flaherty  28:50 

Yeah, so that history is starting to come forward and get some attention alongside how we have traditionally understood him, which is in a very celebratory manner. There’s Minor Hall is named after him, which was one of the former law buildings, there's professorships and other things named after him. But this other part of him is coming forward. And I think one thing that's really useful about these student notebooks that this project takes on is that we're moving beyond the faculty publications and the faculty speeches, which were important. That's a lot of what scholarship has traditionally looked at when we look at connections between institutions of higher education and slavery or discrimination. But in these student notebooks, we can see these teachings going on in the classroom, which I think is a really important arena for normalizing ideas about racial separation for these young minds who are digesting this as they're hearing it from their mentor. These student notebooks and this project offers some new ways of understanding how these ideas get spread and solidified in an institution of academic learning. 


Meggan Cashwell  29:50 

Well, I know I made a comment earlier about how challenging the notebooks are to read. But as you're saying, they really are a crucial source for piecing together this history of legal education in the nineteenth century. We own a number of student notebooks in Law Special Collections, I think one hundred sixty during the entire Law School's existence, and then Small Special Collections, on Main Grounds also owns these notebooks. And patrons can come and look at them, which is very exciting. 


Randall Flaherty  30:18 

If you can handle the handwriting, they are some great resources. 


Meggan Cashwell  30:22 

I'm just, I'm just glad it's not my student notebook on display. I have to say. 


Randall Flaherty  30:25 

Yes, mortifying. 


Meggan Cashwell  30:26 

Well, speaking of student notebooks as a key source, something that we like to ask our guests: Is there a photograph, or a letter, or a legal treatise that you've come across in your research that stood out to you that you'd like to describe for us today? 


Randall Flaherty  30:41 

So the coolest thing that I have seen, the most interesting thing that I've seen as part of this research is something that you found Meggan, which is this absolutely amazing photograph of John Minor in his office near Pavilion X. We don't know when it was taken. Basically, he took over these two student rooms that adjoined Pavilion X. And he made it his office and this photo is just absolutely stunning. The camera is looking straight at him, he's looking straight back at the camera, and you see him in his natural habitat, he's surrounded by books. And he has this line in his Institutes about how the shelves of modern lawyers just groan with all the materials they need to stay updated on the law. And you see it in this picture, just the walls are covered in these books. And you can get a sense of how he learned and how he prepared for his lectures. He's just staring at the camera with these, these eyes. And there's some accounts of him in class, about how he was six feet tall, he had this voice and he could change the tone in strategic ways to really capture attention. And that he had these eyes that could really just, just bite the student. And it just all comes through in this picture. It's really kind of terrifying, and interesting. So, it really brings some of the human element forward. 


Meggan Cashwell  31:51 

We will post the photograph on our website, I want to say that my finding it was a total accident, but a happy one no less. We actually got to visit this space. So, we shared the image with our friends who are doing renovations and restorations to the adjacent Lawn rooms at Pavilion X, and they took us down to the basement and showed us there are lines there where the shelves would have been, it was pretty incredible. So, this photograph has been really important to us, but also to people trying to restore these historic spaces as close to their original models as they can, which has been really cool. 


Randall Flaherty  32:27 

Yes, it's a wow moment. 


Meggan Cashwell  32:29 

Yeah. So, one last question. You know, I mentioned at the start of our interview that Randi's work on Minor is a part of a larger project. But for now, where can our listeners learn more about John Barbee Minor, his life and legacy? 


Randall Flaherty  32:43 

So, we've tried to interpret him in a couple different places where someone could go to learn more. We have a project called Slavery and the University of Virginia School of Law, which makes some of these student notebooks available as a way to offer a place where researchers can go and look at how slavery was taught in the classroom, including some of the notebooks from John Minor’s class. And then we've also tried to redo the traditional biographies of our faculty members to incorporate their role as enslavers, all of the professors prior to the Civil War were enslavers. So, you can find John Minor's biography there and learn about him. And also, we've tried to put up as much information as we as we know about the enslaved people who lived and labored at Pavilion X. We also have an entryway exhibit at the Law Library. So, this is in the entryway of the Law Library. But that talks about the two-hundred-year history of the Law School, but does touch on John Minor since he had such a long tenure. You can find out more about him there. 


Meggan Cashwell  33:35 

Great. Well, Randi, thanks for being here. This was a lot of fun. 


Randall Flaherty  33:38 

Thanks, Meggan. Great to be here. 


—Musical Break— 


Meggan Cashwell  33:51 

For more on today's episode, please visit our website,, where you'll find show notes, a transcript, and bonus content. We'd also love to hear from you, so if you have thoughts on the show, feel free to reach out to us via our Contact Us page, also at I hope you'll join us for the next episode, as we continue to explore legal education at the University of Virginia. Thanks for listening. 


Rebecca Barry  34:23 

Legal Knowledge is a production of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at the University of Virginia. The podcast is produced by me, Rebecca Barry, along with Meggan Cashwell and Addie Patrick. Special thanks to Loren Moulds for designing our website, Jane McBrian for assisting with transcription, and Randi Flaherty for supporting this podcast in countless ways. We also want to thank the staff at WTJU for use of the studio, and the staff at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at UVA for use of their materials. Our theme song is Center of Gravity by Phutureprimitive. Please rate and review Legal Knowledge on your favorite podcast app and be sure to tell your friends about the show. We'll see you next time. 


—Musical Outro— 

Show Notes

When John Barbee Minor was hired as professor of law at UVA in 1845, he inherited Thomas Jefferson’s expectation that he would train skilled lawyers, many of whom would go on to be leaders in Virginia and the nation. During Minor’s tenure, legal education was slowly professionalizing—not just in Virginia but in the broader US. In his 50 years as law professor, Minor facilitated a remarkable transformation: he brought renewed rigor and discipline to law classes, expanded the law curriculum, bolstered the Law School’s reputation to regional prominence, and engaged in a hands-on mentorship style that gained the admiration and respect of the more than 6,000 students he taught. But Minor also used his teaching to justify laws that upheld slavery, white supremacy, and patriarchy. 

In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Randi Flaherty to address the place of Minor’s teaching within the national landscape of legal education as well as his legacy on Grounds today. 

Guest Bio

Dr. Randi Flaherty is a historian of early America and the Head of Special Collections at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at UVA. Rand oversees the department’s efforts to preserve, interpret, and share the history of UVA Law and make accessible the Law Library’s collection of legal history materials. She also spearheads several public history initiatives at the Law School, including The Historical Landscape of North Grounds project as well as Slavery & The University of Virginia School of Law. Randi is one of the co-editors of the Law School’s forthcoming volume on the history of legal education at UVA (UVA Press).  

Select Bibliography

Below are links to records for select special collections materials featured in this episode. 

Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections, University of Virginia 


Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia