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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Morris Cohen Donates Children’s Law Book Collection to Law Library

Books for children about law and justice, crime and criminals, lawyers and judges, and courts and cases are part of a fascinating collection now residing in the Lillian Goldman Law Library, thanks to the generous donation of Morris L. Cohen, Professor Emeritus and Librarian Emeritus at Yale Law School. Professor Cohen donated his “Juvenile Jurisprudence Collection” this past October. He was director of the Law Library from 1981 until his retirement in 1991.

“Morris Cohen is one of the great law librarians and book collectors of the twentieth century, and it is an honor to have this unique collection. I don’t know of any other collection like it anywhere,” said Michael Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Law Library.

Added Law Librarian Blair Kauffman, “This marvelous gift fits perfectly into the great collection of rare books Morris helped develop and refine, and it complements the illustrated law book collection Mike Widener has been pulling together in recent years. We are so happy that future generations of library users will be able to get a glimpse of Morris’s delightful sense of humor and excellent book collecting skills when they browse this collection or draw upon it for their research.”

With an interest in rare law books and curiosity about how early American legal scholars and judges sought to disseminate law to the general public, coupled with his instinct to collect, Professor Cohen began accumulating children’s books related to law around 1960. His then six-year-old son Dan, now a professor of American history, took note of dad’s acquisitions, and the collecting turned into a hobby the two shared. Stopping at bookseller shops became a staple of family trips. At home, the two would pore over antiquarian book dealers’ catalogues.

The result of the nearly five-decade effort was a delightfully diverse assortment of 200 books written for children—some intended to educate, some to entertain, and some to provide moral instruction. They range from simple stories illustrating the consequences of wrongdoing to serious instruction in politics and government. They comprise a variety of formats—from story books to pamphlets to coloring books to textbooks—with some geared to toddlers and others to young scholars. The oldest book in the collection dates from 1759.

Professor Cohen’s favorites include early English didactic books like A Brief Grammar of the Laws and Constitution of England; humorous ones like Juvenile Trials for Robbing Orchards, Telling Fibs, and Other Heinous Offenses; and modern histories like Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories.

He says he donated his collection to the Law Library because of his affection for the Library and its Rare Book Collection.

“This Library was the capstone of my fifty-year-long career in legal education at Columbia, Buffalo, Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Yale,” said Professor Cohen. “It is my hope that students here can study this unique collection and see how our law was, and still is, being disseminated and forming an important part of our children’s civic education.”

The Law Library will stage small exhibits of the collection outside the Rare Book Room in the coming months. In the meantime, Mike Widener says he would be happy to show the books to any interested visitors.