A Gavel and Our Connections to History

Renovations can uncover many surprises – some unexpected, some forgettable, and then some with historical significance. A renovation at the Cook County Law Library (CCLL) uncovered all three of the above. However, one surprise led me on a quest into the history of CALL and AALL.


In 2015, CCLL underwent a renovation that included a redesigned reference/access services center and the addition of tech-enabled conference rooms and education centers. At the time I was the CCLL deputy law librarian.

The renovation was an opportunity for us to rethink our entire space, which encompassed the 29th floor of the Daley Center. In addition to weeding and shifting parts of our print collection, we decided to go through every cabinet, closet, room, and box on the 29th floor.

Gavel Box
boxes as they were discovered at CCLL

In the course of moving file folders, I discovered two small boxes, one rectangular and the other square. Both were worn and of a certain vintage. Inside the long box was a gavel of solid wood with a very tarnished dedication plate.

Upon closer inspection I detected the words: AALL, Chicago, Host and 1955. The remaining words were hard to read. The small, square box contained a wood strike plate.

Association History

1955 was eight years after the founding of CALL in 1947 as the third chapter of AALL. These hints teased my curiosity. As a young association, I imagined we were enthusiastic and energetic. What did we host in 1955?

And, more to my interest, how did the gavel and strike plate come to be in a file folder on the 29th floor in 2015? With looming deadlines, I was going to have to research my finds later. I moved these two small boxes to my office for safe-keeping. Out of sight, out of mind.

In early 2018, I rediscovered the boxes as I was organizing files in my office. Having more time, I polished the dedication plate to reveal the full message:

Chicago Association Law Libraries
1955        Host       AALL

What happened in 1955? Now I was in research mode. My initial inclination was that AALL held their annual meeting in Chicago. Consulting the Law Library Journal confirmed this hunch. Chicago was the location of the 48th annual meeting, July 5-8, 1955.

CCLL History

Next, how could the gavel have found its way to CCLL? For those CALL members not familiar with CCLL’s history, the library opened in 1966. It did not exist at the time of the 48th AALL annual meeting.

Holabird & Roche Chicago City Hall and County Building
Holabird & Roche County Building

However, CCLL had a unique connection to a law library that did exist in 1955. The Chicago Law Institute, incorporated in 1857, had a subscription library for attorneys and judges. It was housed in the County Building on Clark Street.

Until the opening of the Daley Center in 1966, the County Building also housed the Cook County courts. In December 1965, the Institute was dissolved, its library in the County Building was closed, and its extensive collection was transferred to the new CCLL in the Daley Center.

The Chicago Picasso at Daley Plaza photo by Sharon Mollerus
Daley Plaza photo by Sharon Mollerus

CALL Leadership History

Could the gavel have come over with the book collection? Which CALL members were involved with that annual meeting? Did any of these members have a connection to the Chicago Law Institute and ultimately the gavel?

Research unveiled the following: Jean Ashman (Washington University) was the 1954-55 CALL president, Redmond Burke, C.S.V. (DePaul) was the 1955-56 CALL president, and Dorothy Scarborough (Northwestern University) was the 1956-57 CALL president. 

In 1955, Frank Di Canio was the Executive Law Librarian at the Institute and served as CALL president in 1949-50. Dorothy Scarborough and William D. Murphy (Kirkland, Fleming, Green, Martin & Ellis) were the co-chairs of local arrangements for the 48th annual meeting. Upon review, these leaders did not yield obvious connections between the gavel and the Chicago Law Institute.

Presentation of the Gavel

Additional research uncovered an announcement in the CALL newsletter noting the presentation of the gavel. The December 1955 issue of the Chicago Law Library Bulletin had the following announcement:

“The President, Miss Dorothy Scarborough, was pleased to exhibit a gavel which was presented to the Chicago Chapter by Mrs. Marian G. Gallagher, immediate Past-President of the American Association of Law Libraries.”

See No. 19 Chi. L. Libr. Bull. 1 (December 1, 1955) on HeinOnline

Several historical facts are also worth noting. The 48th annual meeting included individuals who left lasting legacies for both AALL and CALL. Marian G. Gallagher was the AALL President in 1954-55. AALL’s highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award is named in her honor.*

At the closing luncheon in 1955, Mr. Harvey T. Reid, president of West Publishing Company was acknowledged for generous contributions. In 1982, CALL established the Agnes and Harvey Reid Award for Outstanding Contributions to Law Librarianship. Harvey Reid and his wife, Agnes were long-time friends and generous supporters of both CALL and AALL.

I may never know how or when the gavel and strike plate found their way to the 29th floor of the Daley Center. However, my short journey into the histories of CALL and AALL highlights the enduring connections among law librarians, our profession and the associations we created to support us. These connections are still strong as we look forward to our 75th anniversary in 2022.

Although questions remain unanswered, there is a happy ending for the gavel and strike plate. They will cease their travels and have a permanent home in the CALL Archives.

*The following CALL members were recipients of the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award:

Additional Reading

Digital journal access via HeinOnline: