Our History, by George


In 1932, U.S. Attorney General George Woodward Wickersham (1858–1936), an American lawyer and Presidential Cabinet Secretary in the administration of President William H. Taft, established The Friends of the Law Library of Congress with an aim to build a strong and lasting national law library for the United States.  

Wickersham earned his Legum Baccalaureus (LL.B.) from the University of Pennsylvania in 1880 and, impressively, also practiced law during his studies in Philadelphia, until 1882.  He began at the law firm of Strong and Cadwalader in New York City in 1883 and made partner in 1887.  President William Howard Taft's brother, Henry W. Taft, also began at Cadwalader, and the firm was made Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in 1914.

Wickersham’s distinguished career saw him serving as president of the New York City Bar from 1914 to 1917.  He participated in the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.  And, he subsequently established the American Law Institute and served as its first president from 1923 to 1936. 

Wickersham was named U.S. Attorney General under President Taft and was later appointed by President Herbert Hoover to chair the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. As seen in the banner image (top of page), Wickersham posed with President Hoover and U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell on the White House lawn following the commission's first official meeting in 1929.

Along with colleagues, noted jurists, attorneys and scholars, Wickersham established The Friends of the Law Library of Congress in 1932 to ensure the Law Library of Congress and its legal resources would remain in perpetuity.   He was 74, and passed on four years later.

Wickersham left an impressive legacy: not only is Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP considered New York City's oldest law firm and one of the oldest continuously operating legal practices in the United States; The Friends of the Law Library of Congress have sustained a Board of Governors for over 85 years in fulfillment of Wickersham's original mission for the organization.

Since 1932, The Friends have helped to grow what is now the largest law library in the world with 2.8 million volumes – the U.S. Law Library of Congress.  In 2017, The Friends began a national, online expansion with friends, partners, and sponsors to help ensure the Law Library's resources reach across and to the public.  By George.

In 1996, The Friends of the Law Library of Congress founded the Wickersham Award to pay tribute to Wickersham’s legacy by recognizing an individual who exemplifies "exceptional public service and dedication to the legal profession."  The award ceremony is attended by members of the Wickersham Circle, and is the top annual honor given to an individual by The Friends.


Banner: Harris & Ewing Collection (Library of Congress photos)  In the front row, seated, left to right: Roscoe Pound; Ada L. Comstock; William D. Mitchell, Attorney General; President Hoover; George W. Wickersham, chairman of the Commission; and William S. Kenyon. In the back row, left to right: Kenneth R. MacIntosh; Monte M. Lehman; Paul J. McCormick; William J. Grubb; Frank J. Loesh; Newton D. Baker; and Henry W. Anderson [White House, Washington, D.C.]  LC-H2- B-3396 [P&P]. 1929 May 28.