Yale libraries, Law School celebrate Constitution Day 2019

Yale will mark Constitution Day on Tuesday, Sept. 17 with events, talks, and exhibits exploring varied aspects of America’s foundational document.

Yale Library events

In keeping with Yale’s 50WomenAtYale150 initiative, the theme of the Yale Library’s Constitution Day celebration is “Liberty is a Lady.” Featured events will explore women's rights through the Constitution and mark the 100th anniversary in 2020 of (white) women's suffrage. “By looking at the changing rights of women in the United States, these events raise further questions about who truly enjoys equal protection under the law,” say the organizers.

Constitutional readings

Volunteers will read sections of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments from noon to 1:30 p.m. at three locations: the Center for Science and Social Science Information (CSSSI), 219 Prospect St.; the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, 333 Cedar St.; and the Women’s Table outside of Sterling Memorial Library on Cross Campus.

Those interested in giving a reading can sign up here.

Constitutional trivia

Members of the Yale community can test their knowledge about the document at a Constitution Trivia event taking place 3-4 p.m. at CSSSI. (Some things to remember: The Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787 by 39 members of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. At 4,400 words, it is the oldest and shortest written constitution of any major government in the world.) All are welcome.

Pop-up exhibitions

An exhibition of recordings, scores, and texts pertaining to the Constitution or music inspired by the document will be on display 3-4 p.m. across from the entrance of the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library (located inside Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High St.) All are welcome.

The Music Library’s collections include recordings of readings of the Constitution and Supreme Court cases that interpret our country’s foundational document. Some recordings present commentary (read by Johnny Cash and others) and songs reflecting on the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Other musical works comment or transform ideas in the Constitution into new music, such as Fats Waller’s “We the People” and Augusta Read Thomas and Leslie Dunton-Downer’s “Conquering the Fury of Oblivion: Theatrical Oratorio in Celebration of Women's Rights in the United States of America: For Narrator, Vocal Quartet, and Orchestra.”

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, located at 121 Wall St., will present a pop-up display of materials from 1787 and beyond 4-5 p.m. All are welcome.

Materials on view will include:

  • The Journal of the Federal Convention of 1787, manuscript copy in the hand of James Madison of the journal made by William Jackson as Secretary of the Convention
  • Early printings of the U.S. Constitution from 1787
  • The first printing of The Federalist Papers
  • The first printing of the Report of the Woman's Rights Convention, held at Seneca Falls, New York, July 19 & 20, 1848
  • Pins and pennants of the suffrage movement
Votes for Women pins and pennants of Sarah Jenney Gilbert Kerlin in the Wilder Family Papers
Votes for Women pins and pennants of Sarah Jenney Gilbert Kerlin in the Wilder Family Papers

The Haas Family Arts Library, 180 York St., will host “Women and the Constitution: 'Liberty is a Lady'” Sept. 17-20, featuring two works made by women about women.  “Divisive and Diverse: A U.S. Voting Story,” an examination of identity and politics created by six students from Claremont University who collected responses to the 2016 election through a student-generated survey. “America: A Hymnal” presents 100 versions of the melody “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” laser-cut into each page. The original lyrics of this patriotic song from 1831 by Reverend Samuel F. Smith have been rewrittento support many cases. On view is “Rights of Woman,” which uses the familiar melody with lyrics used during suffrage protests. The display is curated by Allison Comrie, 2019-2020 Kress Fellow in Art Librarianship, and Mar González Palacios, associate director for special collections.

The Bass Library on Cross Campus will also present a pop-up exhibit of Constitution-related materials Sept. 16-20, curated by Laura Sider, associate director for frontline services.

Law School talks

The Law School will mark Constitution Day with two talks on Sept. 17. Both are open to the Yale community.

How Much Should We Revere the Constitution?’

Legal scholars Monica Bell of Yale and Gerald Torres of Cornell Law School will discuss “How Much Should We Revere the Constitution?” at noon on Sept. 17 in Rm. 120 of the Law School, 127 Wall St. The event is sponsored by the Law School chapter of the American Constitution Society.

Bell is an associate professor of law at Yale Law School and an associate professor of sociology at the university. Her areas of expertise include criminal justice, welfare law, housing, race and the law, qualitative research methods, and law and sociology. Torres, the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law at Cornell, is a leading figure in critical race theory, environmental law, and federal Indian Law.

The Role of the Anti-Federalists in Constitutional Interpretation’

Andy Oldham, a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals since 2018, will discuss “The Role of the Anti-Federalists in Constitutional Interpretation” 12:10-1:30 p.m. in Rm. 129 of the Law School.

Before he was elevated to the bench, Oldham spent years working as a public servant, holding positions as general counsel to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, deputy solicitor general of Texas, and an attorney-adviser in the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel. Oldham clerked for Judge David B. Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit and Justice Samuel Alito, and he is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

The talk is presented by the Yale Federalist Society.

Other ways to celebrate Constitution Day at Yale

Read the Constitution online.

From the preamble to the 27th amendment, the entire text of the U.S. Constitution is available online through Yale’s Avalon Project.

Watch “Rare Books: The Constitution.” This video, created in conjunction with Professor Akhil Amar’s “Constitutional Law” class on Coursera, looks at the Constitution-related documents in the Law Library.

Listen to a lecture about the Constitutional Convention. In a session from her Yale Open Course on “The American Revolution,” Professor Joanne Freeman discusses the debate over the Constitution at the Federal Convention of 1787 — a convention that, she notes, by no means had an inevitable outcome.

Watch “Constitution Day” with Akhil Amar. In this video, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science Akhil Amar discusses what makes the U.S. Constitution unique and why we celebrate Constitution Day today.

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