As an ambitious young man heading off to study law in the 1850s, Henry T. Harris of Lincoln County, Kentucky could have done no better than to enroll in Montrose Law College, described by its founder not as in Frankfort, Kentucky, but over it.
Before he departed for Dixie in 1861 to pledge his allegiance to the Confederate States of America, Thomas B. Monroe (1791-1865) resided at “Montrose,” his spacious residence on a bluff overlooking the Capitol building in Frankfort. While serving as a U.S. District Court Judge, he also conducted law classes at his home. In 1854, Montrose Law College was formally chartered. Its mission had a curiously British flavor, with authority to operate departments such as “inns of chancery” and “inns of court” and to confer the degrees of “batchelor, of barrister, and of sergeant at law.”
Upon arrival, Henry Harris and his classmates found that Judge Monroe was the institution’s heart and soul. “It will be observed,” stated the prospectus, “that one Professor only fills all the Professorships in this College, but all his time, not required by his judicial duties, is employed with his students,” all of whom would have at least 3 lessons a day. Subjects ranged from civil, criminal, mercantile, maritime and international law to rhetoric, logic, and (to allow students to cut their teeth in a courtroom setting) a twice-weekly moot court.
Limited to an exclusive group of 10, all students resided at Montrose, where a fee of $230 per session covered their instruction, room and board, supplies and use of the library. Henry Harris was delighted enough with his situation to make a sketch of the building showing the location of his rooms, the library, dining room, parlors, classroom, and even the tree under which he sat “of an evening.”
Henry Harris’s souvenirs of Montrose Law College are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to access a finding aid. For other collections relating to law and lawyers, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.