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From the Archives

J. L. Lipscomb Letter, 1909

J. L. Lipscomb senior picture, 1913

J. L. Lipscomb senior picture, 1913
Image source: The Cactus 1913

James Livingstone Lipscomb’s (1890-1945) letter addressed to his mother over a century ago gives us a small glimpse into a first-year student’s life at the University of Texas Department of Law during its early days. Resident of Crockett, Texas, Lipscomb rented a place at 1714 Lavaca Street; the block is currently home to a row of half-empty retail properties. He boasts of having found “a fine room, and magnificent board” for an enviable rate of $18 a month. “The usual rate here,” he writes, “is $22.” Who doesn't love a good bargain?

Lipscomb began his law studies in 1909, the same year he wrote the letter marveling at the “hours of reading” required for class preparation. “The highest grade given here is 97,” Lipscomb writes, “as they claim no one reaches perfection.” Studying case law was particularly time-consuming, and quizzes were “lots of trouble but they impress the facts on the mind.” The intensity of law school experience seems to have inspired rather than discouraged Lipscomb, however, and he speculates that his affection to the school grew stronger the harder he worked.

Law Banquet, 1912

Law Banquet, 1912
Image source: The Cactus 1913

Despite heavy coursework, there were plenty of opportunities for social interaction and extracurricular activities. Lipscomb mentions taking a date to a football game, visiting his friends, and going to church on Sunday. He was particularly thrilled about the upcoming law banquet and "smoker," an annual event held at the prestigious Driskill Hotel. “It will be a big affair,” he writes. The picture on the right depicts a similar event a few years later. The 1909 banquet featured a special guestAlexander Frederick Claire, also known as "Alec," the wooden mascot and patron saint of the rival UT Engineering Department. This appearance precipitated the start of what turned into a decades-long feud between the law students and the engineering students.

Lipscomb also shares his excitement about being selected to the track team to compete with Tulane and Texas A&M universities at an event in Houston. The Cactus yearbook reported “seven out of thirteen first places”a sweeping win for the team.

University of Texas track team, 1909

The University of Texas track team, 1909
Image source: The Cactus 1910

 Despite detailing an academically fulfilling and socially rich life in Austin, the letter is tinged by a note of homesicknessperhaps not unusually so for someone spending an extended period of time away from home, possibly for the first time. Lipscomb ends the letter inquiring about various members of his family and extends a simple yet poignant request: “Send me a Crockett paper every once in a while. Give my love to Papa and Bella.” In a sweet and endearing gesture, Bella's signature adorns the entire back of the envelope, as if to claim the letter for herself. After obtaining his Bachelor of Laws degree in June 1913, Lipscomb did not wait long to go back home. The July 17, 1913, edition of The Crockett Courier features the following advertisement: J. L. Lipscomb. Attorney at Law. Office in Moore Building. Crockett, Texas. 

The J. L. Lipscomb letter is held at the Tarlton Law Library Special Collections Department. It has been digitized and transcribed for online access.