Rare Pierce Butler Letter Found In Library Book

19Jul09

The things you find when cleaning house…

The Law Library here at the University of Louisville has had a collection of donated books that have sat neglected, unloved, and worst of all, uncataloged in our attic for who knows how many decades.  This summer, I started going through the books and officially adding them to our collection. There have been interesting finds (such as books published back in the 1600′s) that I will probably note in later entries in this blog. Almost as interesting as the books have been what I’ve found inserted in the books: old tests (a number of the books were donated by former faculty members), printed advertisements, business cards, etc. But hands down the most interesting item has been this: a handwritten letter from Supreme Court justice Pierce Butler to Benjamin Washer.

The content of the letter isn’t all that extraordinary. In 1920 (2 years before he ascended to the Court), Butler was apparently traveling through the state and he sent this letter to entice Washer to meet up with him in Frankfort. (Ben Washer was a Louisville lawyer and sometimes judge, who was also professor and Dean at the Jefferson School of Law–a night law school in Louisville that later merged with the UofL Law School.)  Apparently, there was a boarding problem which Pierce tried to solve by offering to share his bed with Butler. As one can see by reading the attached copy of the letter, Pierce helpfully drew a diagram of the bed and indicated that there was a nice view out the window from the bed. It is unknown whether Washer took Pierce up on his offer.

Other than what some people will make out about the sleeping arrangements, it is not a particularly significant letter. However, as a handwritten, personal Pierce Butler letter, it is fairly rare. Many Supreme Court justices (such as Brandeis and Harlan) kept most of their papers and made them available for posterity. However, there does not seem to much available from Butler. The Minnesota Historical Society seems to have a small collection of his pre-Supreme Court papers. But other than a few letters found in a few other collections that seems to be it, so any new letters that turn up are significant.

I can’t wait to see what else I can find in these books.

View letter

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