Fifty Years Later: An Archival Look at the 1971 Virginia Constitution

Introduction

Law Special Collections recently installed Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971 in the lobby of the Law Library. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1971 Virginia Constitution, the exhibitprovides a retrospective look at Virginia’s Commission on Constitutional Revision through the work of UVA Law professor and constitutional law expert A. E. Dick Howard (’61). Howard served as executive director of the Commission, an appointment he received from Commission chair and former Virginia governor Albertis Harrison Jr. in February 1968. The materials in the exhibit are curated from Howard’s personal papers, which he donated to Law Special Collections in 1981.  

Forming the Commission

In 1968, Law Professor A. E. Dick Howard (’61) began work as executive director of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision, charged with overhauling Virginia’s supreme legal document. In the wake of massive resistance to school integration, Howard and the Commission set out to revise the 1902 Virginia Constitution, which disenfranchised many Black Virginians and explicitly outlawed racial integration in state schools.  

Howard undertook the formidable task of administering the work of the Commission, which consisted of ten members and a chair. The commissioners were highly visible legal and political figures, chosen for their stature in the Commonwealth. They included, among others, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell Jr., civil rights attorney Oliver Hill, former UVA president and Virginia governor Colgate Darden, and Law School Dean Hardy Dillard (’27). 

Pictured are several members of the Commission in Williamsburg, 1969: (left to right) Davis Paschall, Ted Dalton, Alexander Harman Jr., Colgate Darden Jr., Lewis Powell Jr., Albert Bryan Jr., Oliver Hill, and Hardy Dillard.

The Revision Process

Following a lengthy study of recent constitutional revisions in other states, Howard proposed a plan of operation and a timetable for the work of the Commission. He divided the Commission into five subcommittees, each of which was headed by a counsel and series of advisors. Counsels were chosen from faculty at Virginia’s four law schools—including UVA Law Professor Peter Low—and from prominent attorneys in private practice, like Jack Spain JrThe Commission tasked the five subcommittees with recommending revisions to assigned focus areas: Bill of Rights, Franchise, Apportionment, and Education; Taxation and Finance; Legislature and Judiciary; Executive and Corporations; and Local Government.  

Here at the Law School, the Virginia Law Weekly covered the stages of the constitutional revision process, with particular emphasis on the involvement of UVA Law professors and students. During the summer of 1968, the Commission hired eighteen law students as research associates to assist the five subcommittees. Twelve of the eighteen associates were from UVA Law. Frances Farmer, UVA Law Librarian and first female Law faculty member, was appointed as Librarian to the Commission at Howard’s request.

Commission meetings took place at various locations across the state, including Charlottesville. Commission members and counsels are pictured here on the steps of Clark Hall, home of the UVA Law School at the time. The eighteen-person group of Commissioners and counsels included eight UVA Law alums.

The Commission submitted its final report to Governor Mills Godwin and the General Assembly in January 1969. Howard acted as special counsel to the Special Session of the General Assembly charged with amending the constitution in light of the Commission’s proposals. Virginia law required that amendments to the existing constitution be ratified by two sessions of the General Assembly and then submitted to the people in the form of referenda. As special counsel, Howard interpreted the Commission proposals to the Assembly, attended committee meetings, met individually with Assembly members, provided constitutional advice, and finally re-wrote each proposed revision in terms acceptable to both houses of the General Assembly.  

Building Support for Ratification

Former governor and Commission chair Albertis Harrison Jr. presents the final report to Governor Mills Godwin Jr., January 1969.

After Howard and the Committee submitted their revisions to the General Assembly in 1969, Howard set off on a tour around Virginia to encourage public support for the new constitution.  

Four proposals related to amending Virginia’s Constitution were put on the ballot for Virginians to vote upon in November 1970: passage of the main body of the constitution, the potential legalization of lotteries by the Assembly, and two matters pertaining to bond financing. Howard’s speaking engagements created a space for citizens to ask questions and express concerns about the four proposals. 

Howard is pictured here at an open forum in Richmond, Virginia in 1970.

Voters passed the revised constitution with a 72% majority. The other provisions passed by 63% or higher. The new constitution, ratified July 1, 1971, remains in force today and includes a non-discrimination clause as well as guaranteed state and local funding for public education, among other provisions.  

Professor Howard Revisits His Collection

Howard views items on display from his collection.

On September 20, 2021, Professor Howard—who still teaches constitutional law—stopped by the library to view materials from his collections. Howard assisted in the curatorial process, loaning two items including a testimonial given to him by Governor Ralph Northam on the fiftieth anniversary of ratification (on display) as well as a certificate from members of the Commission (featured here). We asked Professor Howard why he donated the materials to the UVA Law Library. He said he felt strongly that the records should be preserved. Howard also noted that much of the work of constitutional revision was completed here since the Law School’s faculty, students, and librarians were involved in the process from the beginning. Most important, Howard was confident library staff would take great care of the materials: “I had so much respect for the work of this law library that I knew my colleagues here would do a first-class job of collecting and curating and making the collection available.” 

We invite patrons to explore Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971, which will remain on display through December 2021.  

On January 11, 1969, during the final meeting of the Commission, the commissioners presented Howard with this certificate in recognition of his outstanding leadership and many contributions. Each commissioner signed the certificate, which now hangs in Howard’s office.

This post is indebted to the work of former archivist Marsha Trimble, who processed Howard’s papers in 1981 and wrote the original description, portions of which are featured here and in the exhibit.

Featured image: Dick Howard and Meggan Cashwell discuss the exhibit “Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971.” 20 September 2021.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

Meggan Cashwell

Meggan Cashwell is a postdoctoral research associate in legal history for UVA Law Special Collections. She is spearheading the library’s forthcoming edited history of legal education at the Law School (UVA Press).

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The Library’s Entryway Exhibit: Revisited

The Special Collections team is excited to announce the completed renovation of the Law Library’s Entryway Exhibit, which originally premiered in March 2014. The initial iteration as well as the current exhibit were designed by Gropen.

Since the exhibit’s opening, Special Collections has expanded its rare materials, research goals, and understanding of the Law School’s complex history, particularly as it relates to issues of slavery, discrimination, and diversity. The result is a new timeline (or “reader rail”), additional hanging images mounted on the wall, and a redesigned introduction panel which matches the University’s updated brand.

Color photograph of introductory panel to the entryway exhibit

The exhibit is divided between the themes “The Landscape” and “The Law,” inviting patrons to consider significant moments in the Law School’s past within the framework of its physical spaces. Classes were originally taught in the law professor’s residence on the Lawn. The school then moved several times before relocating to North Grounds in 1974. In addition, the exhibit covers Virginia Law’s evolving curriculum and major shifts in student life and culture.

Related Special Collections projects informed the bulk of the exhibit’s revisions, including ongoing research into how professors taught the laws of slavery during the antebellum period, explorations into the historical landscape of North Grounds, and the Law School curricular history book project headed by Postdoctoral Fellow Meggan Cashwell.

While the entryway guides the Law School’s students, faculty, and staff into the library and its resources, we encourage patrons to pause and explore the updated exhibit, and with it, UVA Law’s 200-year history.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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The UVA Law Library Celebrates Two Centennial Anniversaries

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 100th anniversary of women’s matriculation at the law school.

To commemorate these two watershed moments in our history, the law library is proud to present the installation of two exhibits which are on display on the 1st and 2nd floors of the library.

100 Years of Coeducation provides a timeline of female history, struggle, activism, and triumph at UVA Law. The exhibit is composed of eight banners, two display cases with artifacts from the law library’s special collections department, and a rolling slideshow of 100 UVA alumnae in the lobby.

100 Years of Coeducation will be on display through the end of September.

Three exhibit banners displayed in a hallway
Three of six banners in the ABA’s traveling exhibit “100 Years After the 19th Amendment.”

The American Bar Association’s traveling exhibit, 100 Years After the 19th Amendment: Their Legacy, and Our Future, will be on display on the 2nd floor of the library from September 1st through 14th.

In conjunction with these exhibits, we asked our female colleagues at the law library to share their voting stories with us. Here are some of their memories:

“Personally, I have to think about (remember….) my first voting experience. More strikingly I remember bringing my two daughters to vote with me in 2016. I think they were most impressed with the sticker afterwards, but I like to think the greater importance of the experience sank in just a little as well.”

Randi Flaherty
Special Collections Librarian

“I grew up in a small town and when I went to vote in my first election, I was known by all the folks working the election. I was a bit intimidated by the ballot machine and worried that I would have to ask for help (why that worried me, I do not know). That evening, per family tradition, we went up to the courthouse to watch them write the vote tallies up on a big board as the counts came in from each precinct.” 

Leslie Ashbrook
Research Librarian

“Growing up, I always loved accompanying my parents to the polls. I took my duty as a kid voter very seriously, less due to my political leanings and more because of the sticker you get afterwards. I even talked to my friends about voting, going so far as to ask for whom they voted (a bold and perhaps inappropriate move). My first legitimate voting experience was in 2008 when Barack Obama won the first time. I don’t recall going to the polls, but I do remember staying up late and watching President Obama’s acceptance speech. As a then junior history major in college, I remember being honored to witness such a significant moment for our nation.”

Meggan Cashwell
Postdoctoral Research Associate

“It’s been a while since my first time voting, so I don’t remember very much! Here’s what I do remember: The first election after my eighteenth birthday was a presidential primary. I’d registered as an independent, but I was excited about being able to vote, so I went in and cast a ballot on some local issues. The poll workers, two older women, were very encouraging and helped make it a positive experience.”

Kate Boudouris
Research, Instruction, and Outreach Librarian

“What I remember about my first voting experience: Sophomore year in college I sat with my absentee ballot for the presidential election and remembered a high school conversation in which a [male] classmate questioned — “is that what you think or is that just what you hear your parents say?” At my dorm room desk I filled in a bubble, wondering if I would have chosen differently in high school and why.”  

Kristin Glover
Research Librarian

“In 2008, I was in 5th grade. My parents used to get the Washington Post, and in the “Kid’s Post” section there was a blank map of the electoral college that readers were encouraged to color in with red or blue as the results came in that evening. I tried to stay up to complete the map, but in the end, I had to go to bed before I could finish it. In 2012, when I was in middle school, election day was a holiday. My orchestra class took the opportunity to fundraise in the school lobby. I wonder now if voters really appreciated amateur string players attempting Pachelbel’s Canon at 6am as they waited in line. I was finally eligible to vote in the 2016 primaries. I remember being nervous for when the poll worker asked for my address, as if I would suddenly forget it. I was incredibly excited to vote after many years of participating in the civic revelry surrounding the occasion.”

Addie Patrick
Special Collections Assistant

Come visit us to learn more about UVA Law’s history of coeducation and about women’s struggle for the vote (and to pick up a free bookmark!).

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

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