Frances Farmer

Frances Farmer (1909–1993)

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. MORE...

 

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.

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.

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.

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)

Time Line

  • 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 serves as president of the Virginia Women's Council of Legislative Chairmen of State Organizations.
  • 1938 - Frances Farmer becomes the law librarian at the University of Richmond.
  • 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.

References

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, J. L., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Frances Farmer (1909–1993). (2016, May 2). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Farmer_Frances_1909-1993.

  • MLA Citation:

    Lautenschlager, Julie L. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Frances Farmer (1909–1993)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2 May. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 2, 2016 | Last modified: May 2, 2016


Contributed by Julie L. Lautenschlager and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography