Readers may recall our nostalgic article from last March that reminisced on the bygone years at Temple Law. Author Caroline Hubbard (TLS ’16) commented then how one early course, Elementary Law, sounded like a “Sherlock Holmes crash course worth taking.” The inquisitive reader may have also caught a glimpse of a familiar sounding name on the faculty list: Professor William Alexander Hamilton, who taught Sales and Negotiable Instruments at Temple Law School during the 1920s and 1930s.
While not the Alexander Hamilton, our curiosity was sparked regardless, especially after our minds recalled the Hamilton musical verse: “But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?” So we ask our readers to don their deerstalker caps and follow us to uncover the clues of unlocking the identity of this individual; the game is afoot.
Born on August 14, 1892 to William J. Hamilton, a textile manufacturer, and Nannie L. Hamilton (nee Curry), Hamilton grew up in North Philadelphia at 2260 North 16th Street, just a dozen or so blocks south of Temple. He shared that home with two younger brothers, Frank C. Hamilton and Walker Hamilton, as well as a family servant, Brown Gertrude. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, either at Center High School or while attending the University of Pennsylvania for his A.B. and LL.B. (the precursor to the JD), he acquired the nicknames of “Billy” and “Bunny.”
At Penn, Hamilton was a member of the Philomathean Society, the Miller Law Club, Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Chi, and editor at the Pennsylvania Punch Bowl, a college humor magazine. After graduating with an LL.B. in 1915, he hung a shingle at the Widener Building in Center City Philadelphia until WWI. He was then drafted as an Ensign, first serving blue-water Navy and then in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force in Dayton, Ohio as a cost inspector at the Recording and Computer Machine Co.
Arriving back in Philadelphia after the war, he moved to 254 W. Highland Ave in Chestnut Hill and co-founded Hamilton, Wainwright & Welsh, which was based in the Widener Building. Based on the available records, the firm practiced mainly trust and estate litigation. Hamilton also appears to have taken the role of corporate solicitor for entities such as Coraza Cigar Co. He was not all business though. Hamilton became a family man, marrying Leah Evelyn Hamilton (nee Hibshnan) in 1925 and then having a daughter, Mary Lee Hamilton, around 1937.
During the 1920s, Hamilton’s story joined with ours, as he joined Temple Law’s faculty. With the resignation of Andrew Wright Crawford, Esq., who taught Bills and Notes, and Sales, these classes were split between James R. Wilson, who would teach Real Property and Landlord and Tenant law, and. Hamilton, who would teach Sales and Negotiable Instruments, an appropriate position considering his experience as a cost inspector in WWI. Hamilton described the class as “A study of the general principles of the law of sales of goods, with specific reference to the Uniform Sales Act. Waite [sic] on Sales, together with illustrative cases.” The record shows that Professor Hamilton must have been a kind soul since he only required a single hour of class per week. He would teach during a turbulent time as Temple Law moved to its present location and the student body grew by 30 percent from just 1922 to 1924. As a professor, he published at least one article within the Temple Law Quarterly (1927-1928) that dealt with the then novel problem of the attribution of damages for car accidents. Hamilton’s argument would be familiar to modern lawyers: he argued that such thorny problems should be resolved by statutes, not the courts.
While it is uncertain when or why Professor Hamilton stopped teaching, we know that by 1937 (when Temple was first listed in the Association of American Law Schools directory) he had left the faculty. When WWII arrived, his draft papers indicate that he was again self-employed, this time at 1510 Chestnut Street. Regrettably, Hamilton would pass away in 1953 from cancer and was laid to rest in Whitemarsh Meadow Park.
Much like how the Hamilton influenced our country during its infancy, our Hamilton gave his time and energy during the fledgling years of our school In Hamilton, they ask “Who keeps your flame, who tells your story?” There are many names on the above faculty list, each of whom contributed to laying down the foundation of what Temple Law is today, and each of whom deserves their story told. For today, though, we can at least take a moment to remember one of their names: our “Bunny,” our Hamilton.
Dean Krebs is a 2L at Temple University Beasley School of Law and is the student editor for the Temple 10-Q. He is also a Temple Law and Public Policy Scholar and recently completed a policy proposal to increase utilization of Philadelphia’s tax incentives for sustainable benefit corporations.