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J. L. Lipscomb’s letter addressed to his mother over a century ago gives us a glimpse of a first-year student’s life at the University of Texas Department of Law during its early days. James Livingstone Lipscomb (1890-1945) of Crockett, Texas, began his law studies in 1909, the year he wrote the letter and marveled at the “hours of reading” required for class preparation. “The highest grade given here is 97,” Lipscomb wrote, “as they claim no one reaches perfection.” The intensity of the law school experience seems to have inspired rather than discouraged Lipscomb, since he speculated that his affection to the school grew stronger the harder he worked. Studying case law seemed to be particularly time-consuming, and quizzes were “lots of trouble” but ultimately helpful for remembering facts.
Despite heavy coursework, there were plenty of opportunities for social interactions and extracurricular activities. Lipscomb mentioned taking a date to a football game, visiting friends, and attending church on Sunday. He seemed particularly excited about the upcoming law banquet and "smoker," an annual event held at the even-then prestigious Driskill Hotel (see e.g., picture at right). “It will be a big affair,” he wrote. The banquet featured a special guest: Alexander Frederick Claire, "Alec," the wooden mascot and “patron saint” of the rival Engineering department. This appearance initiated what turned out be a decades-long feud between law students and engineering students. Lipscomb also shares his joy of being selected to the track team for a Houston competition (between Texas, Tulane, and Texas A&M Universities). The Cactus yearbook for 1910 reported “seven out of thirteen first places,” a sweeping win for the team.
During his first year at the University of Texas, Lipscomb stayed at 1714 Lavaca St. He boasted of having found “a fine room, and magnificent board” for an enviable rate of $18 a month. “The usual rate here,” he wrote, “is $22.” Despite detailing an academically fulfilling and socially rich life in Austin, the letter is tinged by a note of homesickness, perhaps not unusual for someone spending a long period of time away from home, possibly for the first time. Upon ending the letter with inquiries about his family, Lipscomb extended a simple yet poignant request: “[s]end me a Crockett paper every once in a while. Give my love to Papa and Bella.” After graduating with a 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. Lipscomb later moved to Dallas, Texas and served as president of the Dallas Bar Association in 1943.