Centennial Digital Exhibit > Centennial Timeline
Many events and individuals have shaped the Harris County Law Library's 100-year history. Here you'll find highlights from the first Houston Bar Association president's call for a lawyer's library in 1870 to the Centennial Celebration scheduled for 100th anniversary of the Law Library's grand opening on October 1, 1915.
1870 - Lawyers need a Law Library
As early as 1870, Houston lawyers saw the need for a law library. Judge Peter W. Gray, first president of the Houston Bar Association and founder of the firm that would later become Baker Botts, made the issue of establishing a law library a top priority. Difficulties with funding and acquiring sufficient materials delayed the project, but HBA support continued until the Harris County Law Library was later established in 1915.
1913 - Incorporating the Lawyers Library Association
On March 6, 1913, seven prominent members of Houston’s bench and bar incorporated the Lawyers Library Association for the purpose of building capital to establish a law library in Harris County. Find their biographies on the Founders of the Law Library page.
Fundraising began with an initial stock offering of $5,000. Local attorneys could purchase shares to become members of the Association and would then have access to library resources and services. At a cost of $25 per share - the equivalent of $580 today - many attorneys chose to pay in installments as membership dues.
1915 - The Grand Opening
On October 1, 1915, the Harris County Law Library officially opened on the top floor of the 1910 Courthouse in downtown Houston, Texas.
1941 - Becoming a Public Institution
On September 15, 1941, the Harris County Commissioners Court adopted rules for the maintenance of the Harris County Law Library, effectively converting the library from a subscribers' library into a public institution. In 1943, the Commissioners vested management of the Law Library in the Houston Bar Association Law Library Committee. Under the leadership of its chair, William L. Kemper, the Committee oversaw expansion of the collection and, by the end of the decade, the Law Library was described in Houston Bar Bulletin articles as "the finest south of St. Louis." Published in 1949, the Harris County Law Library Catalogue contained more than 50 pages of resource lists and was distributed to members of the local bar to encourage use of this new public institution.
1954 - Toward Service to All
In 1951, Robert W. Hainsworth, a graduate of Howard University School of Law and a practicing attorney, filed a lawsuit to challenge segregation practices in the Harris County Law Library. At the time, African-American attorneys were permitted to use the Law Library and its resources, but were required to sit at a single table. At the trial court level, Mr. Hainsworth’s request for a writ of mandamus was denied. On February 18, 1954, the Court of Appeals in Galveston affirmed, citing Plessy v. Ferguson to support its holding that no constitutional right was infringed. On May 12, 1954, the Supreme Court of Texas refused Mr. Hainsworth’s application on the basis that it found no reversible error. Five days later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, overturning Plessy. Mr. Hainsworth forged ahead taking his appeal to the same high court that had just declared the doctrine of "separate but equal" to be "inherently unequal." However, he experienced a different – and disappointing – result when, on November 8, 1954, the Court denied his petition for certiorari with a brief entry in Volume 348 of the U.S. Reporter. Although faced with injustice, Mr. Hainsworth continued his work toward equality. In 1955, he helped found the Houston Lawyers Association along with several other attorneys who worked to end segregation. Thanks to the leadership and continued efforts of Mr. Hainsworth and his contemporaries, the Law Library is now open and available to all.
1986 - Entering the Digital Age of Legal Research
In 1986, the Harris County Law Library joined the digital revolution in legal research by offering access to Westlaw's W.A.L.T. (a.k.a. West Automated Legal Terminal). For more information about W.A.L.T. and more technology that has impacted the Law Library, visit the Technology page of the Centennial Digital Exhibit.
1987 - Moving to Congress Plaza
Between 1986 and 1987, the Harris County Law Library packed its collection and relocated to the 17th floor of Congress Plaza. After more than 70 years in the 1910 Courthouse - then known as the Civil Courthouse - in downtown Houston, the Law Library's collection had grown to nearly 100,000 volumes and the move to the opposite corner of Congress and Fannin Streets was quite an undertaking.
2011 - Joining the County Attorney's Office
In 2011, the Harris County Law Library became a part of the Office of Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney. Since then, the Law Library has moved to the first floor of Congress Plaza, where it is more accessible to attorneys and citizens of Harris County. The technology available in the Law Library has also expanded to include 25 public access computers and free access to leading legal research databases. With the support of the Harris County Attorneys Office, the Law Library is truly Harris County’s legal research destination in downtown Houston.
2013 - Becoming More Accessible
On January 2, 2013, the Harris County Law Library opened its doors in its current location on the first floor of Congress Plaza. The new space is much more accessible for all patrons and usage has doubled in the last two years. The move also allowed the Law Library to greatly expand its public access computer area, making modern digital legal resources more accessible for everyone.
2015 - Celebrating a Century of Service
On October 1, 2015, the Harris County Law Library will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Grand Opening. Check the Events page for announcements about our Centennial Celebration.