ENTRY

Farmer, Frances (1909–1993)

SUMMARY

Frances Farmer was a law librarian and the first female law professor at the University of Virginia. Born in Charlotte County, Farmer studied history and then law before becoming a law librarian at the University of Richmond in 1938 and the University of Virginia in 1942. She took charge of cataloguing and then greatly expanding the School of Law’s collection, helping to develop the school’s alumni association as a fund-raising tool. In 1959, she served a one-year term as president of the American Association of Law Libraries. Four years later she was elected to the general faculty and, in 1969, made a full professor. During her tenure the law library grew from fewer than 40,000 to more than 300,000 volumes. Farmer retired in 1976 and died in 1993.

Farmer was born on December 5, 1909, in Keysville, Charlotte County, and was the daughter of Florence Womack Farmer and Horatio Weldon Farmer, a wheelwright. In 1915 the family moved to Richmond, where her father managed an automobile repair shop and later worked as an insurance agent. She attended public schools and in 1931 received a BA in history from Westhampton College, part of the University of Richmond. Having earlier taken several summer classes at the university’s T. C. Williams School of Law, Farmer continued her legal training there. She completed an LLB in 1933 and was awarded a medal for being the best all-around graduate in law.

Richmond League of Women Voters

lthough Farmer quickly passed the state bar examination in December 1933, she continued working as secretary to the dean of the law school, a position she had first taken on a part-time basis while a student. She held several offices in the Richmond chapter of the American Association of University Women, including director (1933–1934) and legislative chair (1934–1936), and also served as legislative chair of the statewide branch from 1934 to 1936. Farmer was secretary of both the Virginia Consumers’ League and the Virginia Social Science Association in 1935. As president of the Virginia Women’s Council of Legislative Chairmen of State Organizations (later the Virginia Council on State Legislation) in 1938, she spoke on the radio, gave public addresses, and testified before legislative committees. She sat on the board of the Richmond League of Women Voters that year and was a member of the Virginia State Bar Association.

Presentation of 200

In 1938 Farmer completed a Columbia University summer course in law library administration and became law librarian at the University of Richmond. She moved to Charlottesville in 1942 when the University of Virginia hired her as senior cataloger at its law library and as executive secretary of the law library committee. When she arrived, the library had no catalog and fewer than 40,000 books, but under her direction and with funds from a special appropriation by the General Assembly, the collection was cataloged within twenty-eight months and the number of new volumes increased annually. Farmer encouraged the involvement of the law school’s alumni association, of which she served for many years as secretary-treasurer; its fund-raising for acquisitions during the 1940s and 1950s exceeded the annual state appropriation for collection development. She began teaching a course in legal bibliography and was appointed law librarian in 1945.

With Ray Doubles, Farmer wrote a Manual of Legal Bibliography (1947). She also edited The Wilson Reader (1956), a collection of speeches by and articles about Woodrow Wilson. A recognized expert in the field of legal librarianship, Farmer published articles in the Law Library Journal and acted as a consultant to law libraries across the nation. She promoted the publication of legal literature in microform and advised publishers in that industry. In 1959 Farmer, who was known for both her tough demeanor and her keen sense of humor, won election to a one-year term as president of the American Association of Law Libraries. Her reputation extended internationally, and the Nigerian government invited her to join an advisory group of librarians at a 1975 conference on law libraries held in Lagos.

Frances Farmer and the University of Virginia School of Law

  • University of Virginia School of Law
    University of Virginia School of Law, 1950

    This photograph from 1950 shows the all-male faculty members of the University of Virginia School of Law, along with one woman—Frances Farmer, the law librarian. Seated in the front row, from left to right, are Hardy C. Dillard, who would become the fourth dean of the School of Law (1963–1968); Leslie H. Buckler; William H. White Jr.; F. D. G. Ribble, then serving as the third dean of the School of Law (1939–1963); Thomas M. Boyd; Oscar Underwood Jr.; and Charles O. Gregory. In the top row, from left to right, are Donnelly (first name unknown); Kenneth R. Redden; Blanton (first name unknown); Frances Farmer; Emerson Spies; Laurens H. Rhinelander; Charles K. Woltz; and Wright (first name unknown).

    Citation: UVa prints and photographs file, Accession #RG-30/1/10.011, Prints14237. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

  • Law Day at the University of Virginia School of Law
    Law Day at the University of Virginia School of Law

    Frances Farmer, the law librarian and a full professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, is at the microphone in a flowered hat, directing activities during Law Day in 1976. A celebration for the law school's students, alumni, and their families, Law Day was first held in 1958.

    Citation: UVa prints and photographs file, Accession #RG-30/1/10.011, Prints14223. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

  • Dedication of Law Library on North Grounds
    Dedication of Law Library on North Grounds

    Frances Farmer, the law librarian and a full professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, stands at the podium during the dedication of the new law library on North Grounds on November 15, 1974. Seated behind Farmer, from left to right, are Colgate W. Darden, president of the University of Virginia from 1947 to 1959; Frank L. Hereford, president of the University of Virginia from 1974 to 1985; and Monrad G. Paulsen, dean of the School of Law from 1968 to 1976.

    Citation: UVa prints and photographs file, Accession #RG-30/1/10.011, Prints14129. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

In 1963 Farmer was one of several University of Virginia librarians elected to the general faculty as associate professors. Effective August 1, 1969, she was granted the rank of full professor, making her the university’s first female law professor. During her career, she helped the law library grow to more than 300,000 volumes. Her leadership in introducing electronic resources and microforms ensured future growth. When Farmer retired in 1976, the board of visitors elected her professor emeritus. Early in the 1980s she established an endowment for the library in the names of her parents. The University of Richmond awarded her an honorary DLitt. in 1976. Farmer died in Charlottesville on September 13, 1993, and was buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery. Never having married or had children, she left her entire estate to the Law School Foundation to be used for the benefit of the law library she had been so integral in building.

Major Works

  • Manual of Legal Bibliography (with Ray Doubles; 1947)
  • The Wilson Reader (editor; 1956)
MAP
TIMELINE
December 5, 1909
Frances Farmer is born in Keysville, Charlotte County.
1915
The family of Frances Farmer moves to Richmond, where he father manages an automobile repair shop and works as an insurance agent.
1931
Frances Farmer receives a BA in history from Westhampton College, part of the University of Richmond.
1933
Frances Farmer receives a law degree from the R. C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond.
1933—1934
Frances Farmer serves as director of the Richmond chapter of the American Association of University Women.
December 1933
Frances Farmer passes the state bar examination.
1934—1936
Frances Farmer serves as legislative chair of both the Richmond and statewide chapters of the American Association of University Women.
1935
Frances Farmer is secretary of both the Virginia Consumers' League and the Virginia Social Science Association.
1938
Frances Farmer becomes the law librarian at the University of Richmond.
1938
Frances Farmer serves as president of the Virginia Women's Council of Legislative Chairmen of State Organizations.
1942
Frances Farmer becomes the senior cataloger at the law library of the University of Virginia.
1945
Frances Farmer is appointed a law librarian at the University of Virginia.
1959
Frances Farmer serves a one-year term as president of the American Association of Law Libraries.
1963
Frances Farmer is elected to the University of Virginia general faculty as an associate professor.
August 1, 1969
Frances Farmer attains the rank of full professor at the University of Virginia, becoming the school's first female law professor.
1975
Frances Farmer joins an advisory group of librarians at a conference on law libraries in Lagos, Nigeria.
1976
Frances Farmer retires from the University of Virginia School of Law.
September 13, 1993
Frances Farmer dies in Charlottesville. She is buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery.
FURTHER READING
  • Bryson, W. Hamilton, ed. Virginia Law Books: Essays and Bibliographies. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: American Philosophical Society, 2000.
  • Trimble, Marsha. “Answering the Challenge: Frances Farmer, Law Librarian.” UVA Lawyer 19 (spring 1995): 43–50 (portraits)
CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Lautenschlager, Julie. Farmer, Frances (1909–1993). (2021, February 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/farmer-frances-1909-1993.
MLA Citation:
Lautenschlager, Julie. "Farmer, Frances (1909–1993)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (23 Feb. 2021). Web. 04 Aug. 2021
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