Collection Summary

Creator: Tompkins, Elizabeth
Title: The Papers of Elizabeth N. Tompkins 1921-1971
Accession: MSS 97-4
Description: This collection contains 13 items.
Location: Special Collections
Photograph Collection: View 1 digitized photographs
Digitized Content: 6 objects
Use Restrictions: There are no restrictions.

Collection Description & Arrangement

This collection is comprised of letters written by Elizabeth N. Tompkins during and immediately after her years of law study at the University of Virginia and diplomas, certificates and awards she received.

Biographical & Historical Information

Elizabeth Tompkins, born in Albemarle County in 1899, earned a bachelor's degree from Westhampton College and a master's degree from Columbia University before she applied to study law at Virginia in 1920. With the encouragement of her father, Tompkins, age twenty-two, became one of the first women admitted to the Law School. These letters indicate that her pioneering experience was not an easy one for her; however, she became Virginia's first female law graduate, finishing near the top of the Class of 1923. She was also the first woman to be admitted to the Virginia State Bar.

Despite her high class ranking, Tompkins had trouble breaking into law practice. For two years after graduation, she clerked in Charlottesville for Judge R.T.W. Duke, Jr. Then in 1925, following the advice of Dean Lile, she moved to Richmond, where she began practicing, first with H. Carter Redd and later with Carter L. Refo. She also served as commissioner of accounts for Hanover County and commissioner in chancery for circuit courts in Hanover and Richmond.

Tompkins played an active leadership role at the University of Richmond, serving as president of the Westhampton College Alumnae Association and sitting for thirty years on the U. of R. Board of Trustees. Richmond awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1970. In 1981, two years after she had retired from law practice, Elizabeth Tompkins died at the age of eighty-three.

Acquisition Information

Date Received 1997
Donor Information This collection was donated to the Law Library by Mr. and Mrs. Carter Refo in April of 1997.

Content List

Box 1


  • TL, 3 I., ENT to Dear Daddy 1921, Wednesday
  • ALS 5 I., ENT to Dear Father & Mother 1923 February 18
  • TLS, 2 I., ENT to Dear Mother 1924 June 20
  • TLS, 1 I. W.M. Lile to ENT 1924 December 4


  • Certificate to practice law awarded by the Virginia Board of Law Examiners. Tompkins was the first woman to pass the bar in the state. 1922
  • Diploma for Bachelor of Laws from the University of Virginia School of Law 1923
  • Certificate of member in the Thomas Jefferson Society of Alumni in recognition of fifty years of service to the University of Virginia. 1973


  • Six pins for membership, recognition or commemoration 1957, 1971, n.d.


Use Policy

Access There are no restrictions.
Use Restrictions There are no restrictions.
Preferred Citation

The Papers of Elizabeth N. Tompkins, 1921-1971, MSS 97-4, Box Number, Special Collections, University of Virginia Law Library.

Unless otherwise stated, digital materials in our collections are available for use under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 License (CC-BY-4.0). For Use and Citation guidelines, see Special Collections Use Policy.