The 65 Club

[This article first appeared in a special 125th anniversary supplement to the San Francisco Daily Journal, Feb. 26, 2003.]

Photo of Dean David E. Snodgrass, whose hiring innovations created the Sixty-Five Club at Hastings.

Dean SnodgrassWhen Hastings Professor Ray Forrester, formerly dean of the law schools at Vanderbilt, Tulane, and Cornell, died in February 2001, with him passed an era. He was the last active member of Hastings' Sixty-Five Club.

In the years following World War II, Hastings College was known for its Sixty-Five Club, and for the dean who brought its members together, Hastings' legendary professor and seventh dean, David Ellington Snodgrass. Dean Snodgrass, who served from 1940 to 1963, gathered at Hastings a group of eminent scholars and jurists, many retired involuntarily at age 65 from the nation's top law schools. For more than 30 years, the Sixty-Five Club provided Hastings with one of the most distinguished faculties of any American law school.

When the Sixty-Five Club celebrated its 20th birthday in 1960, Dean Snodgrass recalled that the club 'stemmed from sheer necessity and was the product of emergency." With the death of Dean William M. Simmons in 1940, five weeks before the beginning of the academic year, no one was available to teach his three classes.

'Younger men were unavailable on such short notice. There was only one source of experienced teachers: the rank of the compulsorily unemployed," Snodgrass recalled.

So it was that the first 'retirees" became the founding Sixty-Five Club faculty. These included Dean Orrin K. McMurray from Boalt Hall, and Stanford law Professor Arthur M. Cathcart.

'Then came World War II," Snodgrass continued, 'with young men even scarcer than before, and with it...came Edward S. Thurston (age 67), for whom there had been no room at Harvard Law School when he attained the age of statutory senility, in 1942."

That solved Hastings' faculty shortage in the short term, but with the end of the war — 'when the law school world was turned upside down" — Snodgrass found in the earlier solution the long-term program that turned into a tradition — and a Hastings hallmark.

'On V-E Day in 1945, the Hastings student body had numbered 37," Snodgrass noted. 'In August 1946, attendance soared to 483. More professors were needed and young men with teaching experience were all but impossible to find.

'The lesson of 1940 had not been forgotten," he said. 'Hastings offered teaching positions to two more victims of compulsory retirement: Oliver L. McCaskill (68) of the University of Illinois, and Chester G. Vernier (65) of Stanford.

'One year later, in the wake of 583 war veterans, came Professor Augustin Derby (65) of New York University, and, within two academic years thereafter, Ernest G. Lorenzen (70) of Yale, Dudley O. McGovney (71) and Max Radin (68) of USC, and George G. Bogert (65) of the University of Chicago."

In the middle 1950s, Newsweek magazine portrayed the spectacular results by quoting the succinct assessment of the dean of the Harvard Law School from 1916 to 1936, Roscoe Pound: 'Indeed, on the whole, I am inclined to think you have the strongest law faculty in the nation."

The Snodgrass Legend

At any major Hastings alumni gathering, there are still those who remember the College's legendary seventh dean, David Ellington Snodgrass. And they tell stories about him — like the time a visitor to the College found him, in a well-worn jacket, sweeping the hall. Mistaking him for the janitor, the visitor asked the way to the dean's office, which Snodgrass obligingly provided. His wit was variously described as 'trenchant," and 'caustic." He was not a scholar, yet he was scholarly: he knew when scholarship was good and when it was bad. His signature green eyeshade, more a necessity for his light-sensitive eyes than an affectation, mirrored that worn by Dean Roscoe Pound at Harvard, where Snodgrass received his LL.B. in 1921.

Dean from 1940 to 1963, it was he who developed the beginnings of the Sixty-Five Club. His dynamism also sparked the drive to build Hastings' first permanent home. Since its founding in 1878, Hastings had been housed in a series of spaces, sheltered previously at various times under the aegis of science (the Academy of Sciences, across from Old St. Mary's, 1879-80), religion (Temple Emanu-el, 1906), medicine (Cooper Medical College, 1906-07), and government (Old City Hall 1901-06, City Hall 1916-23, the State Building 1923-32, 1933-38). Seventy-five years of nomadic existence came to an end in 1953, largely through Snodgrass' efforts, with the dedication of the classroom building at 198 McAllister St., now named Snodgrass Hall.

Some Sixty-Five Club Greats

Among Sixty-Five Club members were William Prosser in torts, Rollin Morris Perkins on criminal law, Stefan Riesenfeld and Rudolf B. Schlesinger in international and comparative law, Richard Powell in property, Roscoe Turner Steffen in civil law subjects with origins in equity, and Edward S. Thurston in restitution. Former California Supreme Court Justices Roger J. Traynor and Raymond L. Sullivan and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg also were Sixty-Five Club members.

Hastings' Sixty-Five Club professors included the former deans of law schools at Cornell, Temple, St. Louis University, Pittsburgh, the University of Washington, Vanderbilt, Cornell, Northwestern, Colorado, Washington University St. Louis, USC, Missouri, West Virginia and Kansas. Three deans at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall were members, as were two deans each from North Carolina, Tulane, Minnesota, and Illinois.

In the international arena, the Club included professors from the Comparative Law School of China, Aukland University College (New Zealand) and Sydney (Australia) Faculty of Law.