Jefferson School of Law and Jefferson University


By: Bud Brooks

Type: General Entry

Published: September 1, 2021

Updated: September 1, 2021


Jefferson School of Law was founded in 1919 in Dallas by attorney Andrew J. Priest as a night school for aspiring lawyers and achieved some level of success during its operation. Classes were held in downtown Dallas and were relatively small affording a good learning environment. Among the professors at Jefferson was the future judge, Sarah T. Hughes, who went on to fame when she administered the presidential oath of office to Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963.

After opening a Fort Worth branch in 1929, Priest dramatically ramped up the school by rebranding it as Jefferson University and adding a variety of undergraduate colleges such as liberal arts, business, commerce, secretarial training, and engineering. Enrollment remained small; there were 81 students enrolled in 1925 and 118 in 1929. By the mid-1920s, however, Jefferson also offered a number of other collegiate activities, including a college debate team, a school orchestra, and, later, a chapter of Alpha Beta Sigma fraternity and a school yearbook (the Jeffersonian). By 1929 classes moved from a downtown Dallas building at the corner of Main and Lamar to a building on Main Street. With the acquirement of university status in 1931, the school moved to a building at 210 S. Harwood near downtown.

But Priest also had aspirations of a great university that played intercollegiate athletics. To that end he started a football team in 1930 and a baseball team in the spring of 1931. However, to describe that first football season as “intercollegiate” is a stretch because the Jefferson “Lawyers” played a vocational school and a military prep school among their four opponents. In 1931, playing as the “Bobcats,” their schedule was upgraded with mostly junior college and college freshmen teams. The lone prep school they played, Terrill School, trounced the Bobcats 52–0.

However in 1932 the college football world in the Southwest was turned upside down when Jefferson hired Nick Dobbs away from Highland Park High School to turn the team into a full-fledged intercollegiate aggregation playing some of the better four-year colleges of the day in the region, such as Oklahoma City University, Central Oklahoma University, and Phillips University (in Enid, Oklahoma). Now playing as the “Rangers,” Jefferson ran the table in its first six games before meeting the toughest opponent of the season in the Oklahoma A&M Aggies (now, the Oklahoma State Cowboys) at Fair Park Stadium (see COTTON BOWL). A&M had to get permission from the Missouri Valley Conference because of the perceived irregularities with the Jefferson program, but the potential gate receipts were enough to allow the game to go on. Still regretting it to this day, the Aggies lost to Jefferson 12–6, unable to score a touchdown in the last minute of the game from inside the five-yard line. It was A&M’s only loss of the season, their undefeated record having been “rudely smashed.” For years the head coach, Lynn Waldorf, complained about the “playground team” at Jefferson. Even the 1933 Oklahoma A&M yearbook, The Redskin, made mention of Jefferson as a “semi-professional aggregation.”

After finishing the season at 8–0, Coach Dobbs looked for a “reward” for his team in the form of a bowl game (which were fairly rare at the time) or at least a challenge game. Meanwhile, Jefferson president Andrew Priest took issue with the team for failing to attend classes, and in early December 1932, he ejected the entire team from the university. Undaunted, Dobbs decided to play on with his now-christened “Dallas Rangers” and was able to procure a New Year’s Day game at Fair Park Stadium against the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. The Spartans later relocated to Detroit and became known as the Detroit Lions of the NFL. In 1932 the Spartans had just lost the NFL championship to the Chicago Bears in early December. Dobbs had one warm-up game for his team in Texarkana, Texas, versus the junior college there and then played the New Year’s Day game, losing 21–0. Ironically, the game score was picked up by wire services across much of the country and was listed in the “Pro Football” section of many of the newspapers’ sports scoreboards. This was the second and last game for the Rangers, and within about six weeks, the Rangers were transformed into the Dixie Rebels under the newly-formed Dixie University—formed specifically by Somerville Law School to host the football team-without-a-home, headed by Nick Dobbs.

Jefferson lasted for a few more years but eliminated its undergraduate colleges and reverted to just a law school called Jefferson University Law School. By 1937 the school had pulled up stakes and was mentioned no more other than in articles reminiscing about the exploits of the football team or referring to graduates of its law school.

Dallas Morning News, October 29, 1930; June 28, 1931; October 31, 1931; April 3, 1932; November 12, 1932; December 20, 1932; January 2, 1933; February 19, 1933; February 18, 1947. Jefferson University, Dallas, Texas 1919–1936, Lost Colleges (https://www.lostcolleges.com/316-jefferson-university), accessed August 25, 2021.

Categories:
  • Education
  • Defunct Colleges and Universities
  • Educators
  • Law and Business
  • Laws, Legislation, and Law Schools
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)
  • Teams
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Bud Brooks, “Jefferson School of Law and Jefferson University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/jefferson-school-of-law-and-jefferson-university.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

September 1, 2021
September 1, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: