With the exception of law students, not many Trojans venture inside the USC Gould School of Law Library, but those who have might know about a unique presidential treasure that harks back to the days of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
This treasure is the Lincoln Reading Room, featuring a rare collection of letters, books and other Lincoln memorabilia dating back to the 1860s that open a window into the mind of one of the nation’s most revered presidents.
The Lincoln Room officially opened February 12, 2009, in honor of Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The International Trial Lawyers Association donated the private collection after James Ackerman, a member of ITLA and USC Law alumnus of 1948, suggested it go to his alma mater.
Students studying inside Lincoln’s living room can sit in replicas of Lincoln’s Victorian armchairs and gaze at lithographs of Lincoln’s family portraits above a faux fireplace while reading Lincoln biographies and books by Lincoln.
Rebecca Neighbors, a second-year law student said, although none of her classes have discussed Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president has taught her powerful judicial lessons.
“Lincoln had to make a lot of tough decisions in his time,” Neighbors said. “But he was not narrow-minded. Lincoln understood that law is not just about doing what’s right for you or your client. It’s about the bigger picture and Lincoln knew what was best for the future of this country.”
The Lincoln Room houses historical classics recapping Lincoln’s career as a lawyer, famous debates with rival Stephen Douglas and copies of Lincoln’s famous presidential speeches, including the Emancipation Proclamation.
Leonette Williams, associate director of the Law Library, said that although law students rarely have time to explore the contents of the Lincoln Reading Room, she hopes the collection leaves a lasting impression on students.
“Students have enough to cover in law school and often don’t have to study anything but the law,” Williams said. “But we’d like to think it inspires them.”
The Lincoln collection is the Law Library’s largest presidential collection, Williams said.
Brian Raphael, assistant director of the Law Library, said the reading room and collection are open to all USC students.
“The room is an informal place for all USC students to come and study,” Raphael said. “You can also request any book and take a look.”
Raphael said not many students actually look inside the books, but those who are interested will be provided with white gloves and access to an exclusive viewing room.
Eric Khodadian, a third-year law student and editor-in-chief of the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice, said the Lincoln collection showcases the library’s rich historical perspective.
“Lincoln was a model leader in spurring social change,” Khodadian said. “The Lincoln Room helps students appreciate Lincoln, who was a well-known attorney that traveled the circuit in a time when large law firms didn’t exist.”