Horace Scurry: Our First African-American Law Student

Horace S. Scurry was one of many fascinating individuals who passed through the Milwaukee Law School between the time of its founding in the early 1890’s and its merger with Marquette University in 1908.  He appears to have been the first African-American to join the ranks of that institution’s students.

Details of Scurry’s life are meager.  He was born in 1865 in Delaware, Ohio, and first arrived in Milwaukee in 1882 at age 17.  He attended school in Milwaukee and then returned to Ohio, where he enrolled in Ohio Wesleyan College (which was in his hometown of Delaware).  The college catalog listed him as a Milwaukee resident, and he apparently entered college with the intention of becoming a teacher. In 1900, he was working at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, as the steward of the teachers’ house and, reportedly, as a teacher.

He returned to Milwaukee at some point and enrolled in the Milwaukee Law School.

Although he studied law, he does not appear to have been admitted to the bar.  The Milwaukee Law School was designed to prepare students for admission to the Wisconsin bar and did not award degrees of its own.  However, in 1908, following the merger, Marquette University awarded a law degree to any former student of the Milwaukee Law School who had been admitted to the Wisconsin bar.  Scurry’s name does not appear on the list of degree recipients, although it is possible that he was admitted but did not bother to apply for the Marquette degree.

In any event, Scurry’s future was in neither education nor law, but in religion.  In the early twentieth century (if not sooner), he became an ordained Baptist minister. He was affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee (a black Baptist church) and with the Wisconsin State Baptist Convention.  After his entry into the ranks of the clergy, he retained an interest in politics and public affairs.  The archives of the American Socialist Party contain a letter written to Scurry by Norman Thomas, the party’s perennial presidential candidate.

In 1935, Scurry, aged 70 and retired from the ministry, was awarded a monthly old-age pension of $30 from the Milwaukee county court.  A story in the December 17, 1935, edition of the Milwaukee Journal reported the award of the pension by County Judge John C. Karel and mentioned Scurry’s prior affiliation with the Milwaukee Law School.  Scurry died on June 6, 1943, still affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

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Marquette University Law School in 1939

In 1938, Jim Ghiardi transferred to Marquette University after his sophomore year at Northern State College (now Northern Michigan University) in Marquette, Michigan.  A year later, Jim enrolled in the Marquette University Law School under a program that allowed Marquette students to count their first year of law school as the final year of their undergraduate education.  Jim received his Ph.B. degree in 1940 and his law degree in 1942. The following is a description of the law school at the time of his initial enrollment in the fall of 1939.

The Law School

By 1939, Marquette University Law School had been training lawyers in Milwaukee for more than 45 years, and the school had been officially part of Marquette University since 1908.  Since 1924, all law school classes had been taught at the Law School Building (now known as Sensenbrenner Hall) which replaced an earlier building on the same site.

In 1939, the law school boasted an enrollment of 248 students and a faculty of ten, plus four “special lecturers” and law librarian Agnes Kendergan.  In addition, the Rev. Joseph A. Ormsby, S. J., served as the Regent of the Law School. Although the law school had originally offered instruction primarily in the evening, the evening division was terminated in 1924, and the last evening class was offered in 1927.

As an institution, Marquette University Law School was squarely in the mainstream of American legal education.  The school had been admitted to the Association of American Law Schools in 1912, and in 1925, shortly after the American Bar Association began to accredit law schools, it won ABA accreditation.  Historically, Marquette Law School graduates were required to take the Wisconsin bar examination to practice law in the state, but in 1933, after a long and sometimes bitter contest with the University of Wisconsin, the “diploma privilege” was extended to Marquette graduates.

Admission and Degrees

To secure admission to the law school, applicants had to be 18 years of age and must have completed three years of college.  There is no evidence that anyone who met these qualifications was turned down in 1939, but this was true for virtually every American law school before the Second World War.

Marquette students in 1939 had the option of pursuing two different types of law degrees—the bachelor of laws and the juris doctor.   Marquette was one of several American law schools that used this distinction to provide recognition for students who entered law school with college degrees (which were required only at a handful of schools) and who performed extremely well while in law school.  This two law degree program had been adopted at Marquette during the 1925-26 academic year.

The standard law degree was the bachelor of laws (LL.B.), which was the equivalent of today’s J.D. degree.  To earn this degree students had to complete 85 hours of law courses, including 4 hours of Office Practice and 4 hours of Moot Court, with an average grade of 77.  (In 1939, the law school was in the process of changing its grading system.  The school had previously used the traditional letter system, but beginning with the class that entered in 1938, students were graded on a numerical basis ranging from 60 to 100.  Ninety-three or better was considered an A, and cumulative averages of 71 and 74 were required to continue after the first and second years, respectively.)

The second degree was the juris doctor, or J.D., degree.  For it, students were required to have entered law school with an undergraduate degree, to complete the requirements for the LL.B. with an average grade of 88 (which was in the middle of the B range), and to prepare and submit an acceptable thesis by May 1 of their final year.  The thesis, if accepted, became “the property of the School and at the direction of the Dean [could] be published.”  By 1940, the J.D. was clearly passing out of fashion among Marquette law students.  Although the degree was awarded to 67 students between 1926 and 1937, no one earned the degree in 1938, and the last two recipients received the degree in 1939.  The J.D. degree remained on the books for several more years but was eventually discontinued sometime between 1942 and 1945.

The Academic Calendar

In 1939, the academic year started and ended much later than it does today.  Law School classes did not begin until September 26, and the first semester examinations did not end until February 2, 1940.  The second semester began on February 6 with graduation on June 12.

Tuition for the regular academic year was $230 — although those who opted for payment on the installment plan had to pay an additional four dollars — and board and lodging could be found in the vicinity of the law school for an estimated $7.50 per week.  Third year students who were also candidates for the law degree had to pay an additional $12.50 diploma fee.

The Student Body in 1939

The 248 students enrolled at the law school during the 1939-40 academic year included 76 Seniors (third-year students), 72 Juniors, 97 Freshmen, and 3 Special Students.  (Special students were enrolled in classes but were not candidates for degrees.)

All 97 students in the 1939 freshman class were male, although this was something of an aberration as there were two women in the senior class and three in the junior.

Eighty-seven of the 97 freshmen students were from Wisconsin, and 58 were from Milwaukee proper.   Nine of the 10 out-of-state students were from the Midwest, including Jim Ghiardi, who was from Negaunee, Michigan.  The only student with a hometown outside the Midwest was Jim’s future faculty colleague Ray Aiken, whose parents lived in Jacksonville, Florida.  Only 18 members of the class were listed as having earned undergraduate degrees prior to beginning law school, although several, like Jim, earned their bachelor’s degree at the end of their first year of law school.

The Law School Curriculum 

The University Bulletin for 1939-40 described the law school’s method of instruction as the “case method,” which it asserted “inculcates habits of accurate reasoning.”  However, the same document also emphasized that the faculty neglected “neither the purely scientific nor the practical element of legal education” and noted that special attention was given to Wisconsin law.

To earn the law degree students had to pass 85 credit hours of courses, most of which were required.  All of the first-year classes—which included four year-long courses and five that lasted one semester—were required and counted for 34 of the 85 credit hours.  Each class was taught in a single section.

Students in the fall of 1939 had Dean Francis X. Swietlik for Contracts, Professor Otto Reis for Torts and for Agency, Prof. J. Walter McKenna for Criminal Law and Procedure, Prof. Francis A. Darnieder for Introduction to Law, Prof. Willis E. Lang for Personal Property, and the Rev. Joseph A. Ormsby, S.J., for Natural Law and Jurisprudence.  In the spring, Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law and Procedure, and Natural Law and Jurisprudence continued with the same instructors, but Lang’s Personal Property course was replaced by one on Domestic Relations (also taught by Lang).  The final spring semester course was Domestic Relations taught by Prof. Carl Zollman.  All of the professors, except for Rev. Ormsby, were full-time law professors.  The first-year curriculum is set out below:

Semester 1

Contracts (3 hrs)

Torts (3 hrs.)

Criminal Law and Procedure (2 hrs.)

Natural Law and Jurisprudence (2 hrs.)

Introduction to Law (3 hrs.)

Personal Property (2 hrs.)

Agency (2 hrs.)

Semester 2

Contracts (3 hrs.)

Torts (3 hrs.)

Criminal Law and Procedure (2 hrs.)

Natural Law and Jurisprudence (2 hrs.)

Domestic Relations (3 hrs.)

Sales (2 hrs.)

Eleven additional courses—eight of which were year-long courses—were mandated for Second and Third Year students, for a total of 42 credit hours.  Altogether, the required courses counted for 74 of the 85 credit hours necessary for the degree.  The remaining hours could be obtaining by choosing among 12 elective courses.  The 1939-40 upper level curriculum is set out below:

Upper Level Required Courses

Bills and Notes

Real Property (2 sem.)

Constitutional Law (2 sem.)


Equity (2 sem.)

Wills and Probate (2 sem.)

Evidence (2 sem.)

Office Practice (2 sem.)

Legal Ethics

Moot Court (2 sem.)

Business Associations (2 sem.)

Elective Courses

Administrative Law

Future Interests

Code Pleading (2 sem.)


Code Practice (2 sem.)

*Municipal Corporations

*Conflict of Laws


Creditors’ Rights

Security (Suretyship) (2 sem.)

Federal Jurisdiction


* Offered every other year.  Note:  Code Pleading and Code Practice became required courses in 1940-41.

The Faculty 

The law faculty in 1939 consisted of the six full-time professors mentioned above (including Dean Swietlik) and four part-time instructors:  Rev. Ormsby, who also taught in the Philosophy Department, Thomas P. Whelan, who was also an instructor in the English Department, and Milwaukee lawyers E. Harold Hallows and Carl B. Rix.  (Hallows was a future chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Rix, a future president of the American Bar Association.)  All but Ormsby were law school graduates who had spent time practicing law in Milwaukee.

The University Bulletin described the members of the law faculty in 1939 as “men who not only take high rank at the bar, but who have been trained in the best universities and law schools of the country.  Such men possess not only the wide empirical knowledge of the practical lawyer in a large city, but also the broad, comprehensive basis of theory and method which is indispensable to the successful teacher.”

Several of the full-time faculty members carried extraordinarily heavy course loads, at least by modern standards.  Swietlik, who had been dean since 1935, taught seven required courses for a total of 15 credit hours.   The real workhorse of the faculty in 1939-40, however, was J. Walter McKenna who taught ten courses (four of which were required).  Francis Darnieder and Willis Lang each taught seven courses; Otto Reis taught five; and Carl Zollman, the best known scholar on the faculty, taught only four.

The part-time faculty members carried much lighter loads.  E. Harold Hallows taught three classes and Rev. Ormsby taught two.  Carl B. Rix taught only a single course, but it was the course devoted to future interests and the Rule Against Perpetuities.  Francis Whalen was listed in the 1939 catalog as a law professor but actually taught no courses that year.

Student Life

The only law school-specific activity listed in the Law School Announcement was the Marquette Law Review.  However, law students were encouraged to take active interest in the University Band, the University Choir, the University Chorus, the University Symphony Orchestra, intramural sports, and the various social, dramatic, literary, debating, and religious organizations.  In a report to University President Raphael McCarthy, S. J., in 1939, Dean Swietlik noted that the law school was concerned about the social life of its students and thus regularly sponsored “smokers,” annual dances including the Barristers Ball, and an end-of-the-year banquet for the law students, the faculty, the Milwaukee bar, and the Wisconsin judiciary.

Legal fraternities also played an important role in the social life of the law school.  Fraternities in 1939 included Delta Theta Phi, which had its own building, Phi Delta Phi, and Tau Epsilon Rho, a fraternity for Jewish law students.

According to the University yearbook, the Hilltop, “extracurricular activities [were] prominent in the law school,” and students were encouraged to participate “in organized religious and social movements for the common welfare of their fellows.”  While the law school acknowledged the importance of “the development of the social side of the student’s character,” its official publication cautioned: “No student activity is allowed to interfere with study.”

The Subsequent Law School Experiences of the Class of 1942 

In spite of the reportedly grueling nature of the first year of law school at Marquette, ninety percent (88 of the 97) freshmen students in 1939-40 returned for their second year in the fall of 1940.  A similar percentage of second-year students (79 of 88) returned for the third year of law school in 1941.

It was during a three-day break for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception during the fall semester of 1941 that Marquette law students learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The likelihood of military call ups prompted Marquette to accelerate its Spring 1942 schedule, and in May, 69 members of the class received law degrees.  (Two of the 69 had actually finished even earlier so that they could enter military service.)

The law school awards announced at the 1942 Commencement were dominated by future Marquette law professors Ray Aiken, who received the award for the highest three-year grade average, and Jim Ghiardi, who received the award for the best performance during the third year of law school.

Sources:  Miscellaneous files, Marquette University Archives; Francis X. Swietlik, “History of Marquette University Law School” (unpublished manuscript, 1939); Marquette University Bulletin: Announcement of the Law School for the Session 1939-40; 1940-41; 1941-42; 1942-43; Interview with Prof. James A. Ghiardi, May 2007.  This essay was originally written for the 2007 program honoring Jim Ghiardi’s 61 years on the Marquette Law School faculty.

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The Mystery Of Eugene Scott: MU Law School’s First (?) African-American Male

Although the career of Mabel Raimey, the first black woman to attend Marquette Law School is well documented — see Phoebe Williams’ wonderful article in the  Marquette Law Review — we do not know with certainty the name of the first African-American male.

For the post-1908 period, when the Milwaukee Law School became part of Marquette University, Eugene W. Scott appears to be a likely candidate for the institution’s first African-American student.  Scott was one of the 46 first-year students enrolled in the Law School’s day program in the fall of 1911.  (One of his classmates was future dean Francis X. Swietlik.)  He is also one of 35 students listed as “Day Juniors” in the following year’s College of Law bulletin.  His photograph also appears as “E. W. Scott” in the Class of 1914 group picture which currently hangs in the hallway outside the Dean’s Office on the first floor of Sensenbrenner Hall.

There is also evidence that Scott did well as a student at Marquette.

His picture appeared in the July 1913 edition of The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association of Colored People, with the note that he was competing for the senior oratorical prize.   However, in spite of his photograph appearing in the above-mentioned class picture, he is not listed among the 18 individuals who received law degrees at the 1914 commencement.    It was not necessary to graduate from law school to practice law in Wisconsin in 1914, and Scott, like many of the law students of that era, may have left without graduating.  However, his appearance in the class photograph suggests that his decision must have been a last-minute one.  It is, of course, possible that he failed his final law school exams.

We actually know very little about Scott, either before or after he attended Marquette.  Entries in the 1912 and 1913 Marquette Law School bulletins list him as a resident of Milwaukee, but a search of the 1910 United States Census shows that there were only three Eugene Scotts in Wisconsin that year, and none of the three were black or of an age that would match Scott’s photographs in The Crisis or at the Law School.  However, the 1910 Census does list an African-American named Eugene W. Scott living in Chicago.  That Eugene Scott was born in 1883, and was then working as a waiter in a hotel while living in a boarding house.  If this is the Eugene Scott who enrolled at Marquette in 1911, he would have been 27 or 28 years old at that time.

Scott apparently moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, after leaving Marquette, and in January 15, 1915, he corresponded with Mary Childs Nerney, the secretary of the NAACP, regarding efforts to protest the recently released film Birth of a Nation, which cast African-Americans in a bad light.  Later that year, the Chicago Defender, a leading black newspaper, published a letter from Scott regarding his efforts to protest the showing of the film in Janesville, which included an appearance before the Janesville City Council.

What happened to Scott after 1915 is not known.  He does not show up in Wisconsin in the 1920 Census, but a Eugene W. Scott does show up as living in Buffalo, New York.  This Eugene Scott was also born in 1883 in Mississippi, as was the Eugene Scott listed as living in Chicago in 1910.  This Eugene Scott was elected president of the Buffalo chapter of the Colored American Workmen’s League in 1919.  Following his election, Scott delivered a eulogy for the recently deceased Theodore Roosevelt, whom Scott described as “the greatest friend of the Negro in American public life since Abraham Lincoln.”

After 1920, the record goes blank.  There is no mention of a Eugene W. Scott born in 1883 in Mississippi in the 1930 United States Census.  More evidence may be forthcoming, but for now Eugene Scott, likely the first black student to enroll in the Marquette Law School, remains a man of mystery.

While Scott may have been the first black student to enroll at the Marquette College of Law, there was at least one black student at the Milwaukee Law School, its predecessor institution.  The career of Horace Scurry will be the subject of the next entry in this series.

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