In memoriam: Morris L. Cohen

Yale Law School professor emeritus and librarian emeritus Morris L. Cohen, who directed some of the world’s most esteemed academic law libraries, passed away on Dec. 18 at his home in New Haven. He was 83.

Cohen was a renowned figure among late 20th-century law librarians 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 Yale Law Library 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 1971-1981, the University of Pennsylvania 1963-1971 and the State University of New York-Buffalo 1961-1963.

“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 Law School Dean Robert Post. “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 Nov. 2, 1927, Cohen was a son of the late Emanuel and Anna (Frank) Cohen. He 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.

Cohen practiced law in New York City 1951-1958, 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 1959-1961.

His 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 most noted 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.

A book collector in his own right, Cohen 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 50-year-long career in legal education at Columbia, Buffalo, Pennsylvania, Harvard and Yale,” 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.”

Cohen 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 (AALL) and served as its president 1970-1971. 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.”

Cohen is survived by his wife Gloria (Weitzner) Cohen; son Daniel Cohen and his wife, Elizabeth; daughter Havi Hoffman; and granddaughter Rachel Hoffman. 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.

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