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Washington College of Law Washington, D. C.

In 2016, American University relocated the Washington College of Law to a newly constructed building that incorporates Immaculata’s Capital Hall and the school chapel.

Though new to the Tenleytown neighborhood, the Washington College of Law has played a significant role in the education of women.

It was incorporated in 1898, as the first law school in the world founded by women, Ellen Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillett; the first to have a woman dean; and the first to graduate an all-female law school class.

Mussey did not attend law school, but learned the law by practicing with her husband, General Reuben Delavan Mussey, a well-connected Washingtonian, who was a supporter of Lincoln and an adjunct law professor at Howard Law School.

Following her husband’s death, Mussey sought admission to the law schools of Columbian College and National University as a means to join the bar, but was rejected by the exclusively male institutions.

Ultimately, Mussey was allowed to sit for an oral bar examination, and was admitted to the bar.

Gillett attended Howard Law School ,one of two white women to do so in the early 1880s.

The two founded the Washington College of Law in 1898 after they were approached by three women who wished to study with them, but who were refused admission to Columbian College’s law school.

With its first graduating class, the Washington College of Law became the first law school to be founded by women, the first with a female dean, and the first law school to graduate an all-female class.

A year later, Mussey’s male law clerk enrolled in 1897, making the school officially coeducational.

Washington College of Law merged with American University in 1949 and graduated its first African American student in 1953. 

Although Mussey and Gillett were pioneers of women’s rights and education, it bears noting that Howard Law School, Gillett’s alma mater, was co-educational and integrated from its start, while Washington College of Law admitted only white students  until the 1950s.

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