Yale Law School Mourns the Death of Professor and Librarian Emeritus Morris L. Cohen; Memorial Service May 1
Yale Law School Professor Emeritus and Librarian Emeritus Morris L. Cohen, who directed two of the world’s most esteemed academic law libraries, passed away Saturday, December 18, 2010, at his home in New Haven. He was 83.
Cohen was one of the towering figures of late 20th century law libraries and among the foremost legal bibliographers in the United States, as well as a beloved teacher and mentor. He was a Professor of Law and director of the law library at Yale Law School from 1981 until his retirement in 1991, when he became Professor Emeritus of Law and Professorial Lecturer in Law. Before joining Yale, he served as director of the law libraries at Harvard from 1971 to 1981, the University of Pennsylvania from 1963 to 1971, and SUNY-Buffalo from 1961 to 1963.
“Morris Cohen directed four of the leading law libraries in the United States. He served here since 1981 and everyone experienced his talent, his scholarly range, his dedication, and his love,” said Yale Law School Dean Robert Post ’77. “Morris was admired throughout the entire community of legal education. We share with many others a great loss to the world of legal scholarship. We will miss his humor, his kindness, his gentle wisdom, and his fascination with books and research.”
Born in New York City on November 2, 1927, Cohen was a son of the late Emanuel and Anna (Frank) Cohen. He was educated in the public schools of New York City and later earned his B.A. at the University of Chicago in 1947, his J.D. from Columbia University Law School in 1951, and his M.L.S. from the Pratt Institute School of Library Service in 1959. He also received an honorary doctorate from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1989.
Professor Cohen practiced law in New York City from 1951 to 1958, before embarking on his library career in 1958 as assistant librarian at Rutgers University Law School. Following a year at Rutgers, he served as assistant librarian at Columbia University Law School from 1959 to 1961.
Professor Cohen’s scholarship helped shape how legal research is taught and eased the path to historical research for any who ventured in that direction. One of his greatest achievements was his landmark six-volume Bibliography of Early American Law (1998), which enables users to find any law book published in America before 1860. He also co-authored some of the leading legal research textbooks, including How to Find the Law and Legal Research in a Nutshell. The latter remains a favored textbook for research instruction.
Professor Cohen was a book collector in his own right and developed a substantial personal library. In 2008, he donated his unique collection of law-related children’s books to the Yale Law Library, saying he did so because of his affection for the Library and its Rare Book Collection.
“This Library was the capstone of my fifty-year-long career in legal education at Columbia, Buffalo, Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Yale,” Professor Cohen said at the time. “It is my hope that students here can study this unique collection and see how our law was, and still is, being disseminated and forming an important part of our children’s civic education.”
Professor Cohen was also quite knowledgeable about rare books, was a member of the Grolier Club in New York City, and taught the summer course on rare law books and manuscripts at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School. He was a formative member of the American Association of Law Libraries and served as its president from 1970 to 1971. He was the recipient of AALL's Joseph L. Andrews Bibliographical Award for his Bibliography of Early American Law and also for A Guide to the Early Reports of the Supreme Court of the United States (1995), co-authored with Sharon H. O’Connor. He was the first person ever to win this award twice.
“In addition to his many remarkable achievements, Morris had a kind and gentle spirit, loved his teaching and engaging with students, and displayed a great sense of puckish humor,” said Blair Kauffman, Law Librarian at Yale Law School. “He was curious about everything and everybody and was a delightful meal companion who always encouraged sharing a dessert. He loved film and live theater and above all, his wife Gloria and family. We’ll all miss him.”
Professor Cohen is survived by his wife Gloria (Weitzner) Cohen; son Daniel Cohen and his wife Elizabeth; daughter Havi Hoffman; and granddaughter Rachel Hoffman.
A funeral was held on Monday, December 20, at the Robert E. Schure Funeral Home, 543 George Street, New Haven. The family will be sitting Shiva from Monday evening, December 20, through Sunday morning, December 26, at 84 McKinley Avenue, New Haven.
Professor Cohen’s family has asked that memorial contributions be made to Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel (BEKI), 85 Harrison St., New Haven, CT 06515; the American Jewish World Service, 45 W. 36th St., 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018-7904; or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 300 Research Pkwy., Suite 310, Meriden, CT 06450.