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The Papers of Emerson G. Spies, 1955-1990

Identifier: MSS-91-6

Scope and Contents

The Papers of Emerson Spies consists of 31 boxes (13 linear feet) of material and spans 1955 to 1990. The collection is arranged in alphabetical order; however, it can be subdivided into three primary categories: Law School-related material, personal correspondence and lectures, and records concerning activity outside the realm of the Law School.

Included among materials related to the Law School are records from Spies' time as Dean of Admissions and his involvement with the Admissions Committee. Also included are materials stemming from his service on the Appointments Committee with are sparse in places but cover 1966 to 1983. Spies' involvement with the Law School Foundation and Alumni Council is documented for his years of service after leaving the deanship, from 1980 to 1990. The collection contains 13 folders of personal correspondence. Lecture notes are also included, primarily for speeches given outside the Law School. The third subdivision of this collection is a variety of materials documenting Spies' involvement with associations outside of the Law School. There are materials from the American Association of Law Schools, particularly concerning the Nominations and Pre-Legal Education Committees. There is an extensive amount of material concerning the Law School Admission Council and the development and administration of the Law School Admission Test. Finally in this category is material concerning the American Bar Association and the Virginia State Bar.

Spies' deanship is documented in the Records of the Dean's Office, RG 100-88.


  • Creation: 1936-1992


Biographical / Historical

Emerson George Spies was born 6 November 1914 in Akron, New York. He attended Hobart College, where he excelled as a scholar and athlete, and graduated summa cum laude in 1936. As a Rhodes Scholar, he studied law at Brasenose College, Oxford University, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Jurisprudence in 1938 and a Bachelor of Civil Law in 1939, and was awarded the academic honor of "double first." When he returned to the United States, Spies spent two years at the University of Chicago Law School as a Tutorial Fellow, and in 1941 moved to New York City to practice with the firm of Mudge, Stern, Williams, and Tucker. He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, and after receiving a commission at the Judge Advocate General's School at the University of Michigan, he stayed on to become an instructor. While there he became acquainted with Lt. Col. Jack Ritchie, head of the School of Military Justice and professor on leave from the University of Virginia School of Law. Ritchie was largely responsible for Spies' joining the law faculty at Virginia after the war was over.

Spies was hired as assistant professor in 1946 and was appointed associate professor in 1947 and professor in 1950. He held the Joseph M. Hartfield Professorship from 1967 to 1976, and the Mary and Daniel Loughran Professorship from 1976 to 1985. A specialist in real property and real estate finance, from 1947 through 1961 he taught property to every first-year law student, and from that time on to retirement, taught at least one first-year section of property. At the time of his death, it was noted that Spies had taught half of the Law School's 13,000 graduates. He was a dynamic, caring teacher who was loved and fondly remembered by his students.

As soon as he joined the faculty, Spies was asked to help with the admissions program at the Law School. With characteristic energy and enthusiasm, he became deeply involved in the admissions process and conducted it almost singlehandedly for twenty years while teaching a full course load.

Accompanying his work in admissions at Virginia was Spies' involvement in the development of the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). In 1947 he, along with representatives of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Pennsylvania, formed the Law School Admissions Council which spawned the LSAT. From 1963 to 1966 Spies was head of the council and served on its Board of Trustees until the year of his death. In addition he served on the Association of American Law Schools' Committee on Pre-Legal Education and Admissions, the Accreditation Committee, and the Committee on Admissions to the Bar.

Spies exerted strong leadership at the Law School in other ways. For ten years he served as chair of the Appointments Committee which attracted a number of outstanding faculty members. Over the years he sponsored many student organizations and journals. In 1976 he became acting dean at the Law School and later that year was appointed dean, a position he held until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 in 1980. During his deanship, Walter L. Brown Hall or Phase II of the North Grounds building was completed, funded entirely by private money. As dean he strengthened the school's ties with its alumni and exerted strong leadership in fund-raising for faculty research and scholarships.

In 1984, in recognition of his many contributions to the Law School and University, but especially for his excellence in teaching, Spies was presented the University's Thomas Jefferson Award. Upon his retirement from teaching in 1985, the alumni created the Emerson G. Spies Professorship which was first held by John Calvin Jeffries, Jr., beloved student and later colleague and close friend of Spies.

Spies married his first wife, Mary Ethel Bell, in 1940, and they had three children, Sally, Richard, and Margaret. Mary Ethel died of cancer in 1966, and in 1972, Spies married Julia Field Sobbott, who brought to the marriage her four young children, Richard, Laura, Daniel, and Wes. In addition to his devotion to his large family and to the Law School, Spies was an avid tennis player and gardener. He planned, selected the plants, planted and tended a woodland garden at the Law School which was later named for him. He died of complications of heart disease on September 24, 1990.


31 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



Professional, administrative and personal papers (1936-1992) of Emerson G. Spies. The collection includes institutional records from his tenure as Law School dean, dean of admissions and his involment with the Law School Foundation and the Alumni Council. There is also personal correspondence.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These files were transferred to the archives from storage betweenca. 1989-1991.

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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library Special Collections Repository

Arthur J. Morris Law Library
580 Massie Road
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22903 United States