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Wigmore, John Henry, 1863-1943



  • Existence: 1863-1943


John Henry Wigmore was born March 4, 1863, at San Francisco, California, one of several children of John and Harriet (Joyner) Wigmore. John Henry Wigmore, called Harry by his parents, received his early education at San Francisco's private and highly regarded Urban Academy. From there he attended Harvard where he took A.B. (1883), A.M. (1884), and LL.B. (1887) degrees.

Wigmore practiced law in Boston for two years following his graduation from law school. Subsequently he embarked on an academic career, his first appointment was as professor of Anglo-American law at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan.

While at Keio Wigmore became immersed in the study of comparative law and a distinguished student of Japanese law. A major legacy of his tenure at Keio was his research into Tokugawa era law and a resultant series of publications he edited and issued under the collective title Materials for the Study of Private Law in Old Japan.

Wigmore accepted an offer to teach at Northwestern University and joined the faculty of its School of Law in 1893. He remained affiliated with Northwestern for the rest of his life, serving as the School of Law's dean from 1901 to 1929. In this capacity Wigmore transformed a relatively modest institution into one of the leading law schools in the United States. He assembled a distinguished faculty, reformed and added breadth to the curriculum, promoted research into developing areas of legal scholarship, expanded the School's library holdings, and founded or strongly supported the Illinois Law Review (now the Northwestern University Law Review), the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, and the Journal of Air Law. Wigmore was a key figure in his advocacy for building a new, consolidated Chicago campus for Northwestern's professional schools and directed the effort to construct, endow, and furnish Levy Mayer Hall as home to the School of Law. Even after giving up his deanship, Wigmore's contributions to Northwestern, his standing in the legal community, and his remarkable ambition and energy made him a forceful and respected presence at the School of Law for the remainder of his life.

Within the legal profession, Wigmore was universally known for his multi-volume work, A Treatise on the System of Evidence in Trials at Common Law, Including the Statutes and Judicial Decisions of All Jurisdictions of the United States (1904-1905), commonly called the Treatise on Evidence1 and probably the most useful and heavily cited law text of its day.

The Treatise is the foundation for Wigmore's reputation as a scholar but it is by no means his only significant contribution to the literature of evidence. He initiated his work in this field by editing the first volume of Greenleaf's A Treatise on the Law of Evidence (Sixteenth Edition, 1899). Wigmore published three editions of A Pocket Code of the Rules of Evidence in Trials at Law (1910, 1935 and 1942), A Selection of Cases on Evidence for the Use of Students of Law (1906, Second Edition 1913, Third Edition 1932), and A Students' Textbook of the Law of Evidence (1935). Some of his major publications on other topics include A Panorama of the World's Legal Systems (3 vols., 1928), A Kaleidoscope of Justice (1941), Examinations in Law, Consisting of Practical Problems and Cases (1899), and A Guide to American International Law and Practice (1943). Wigmore was an editor of considerable energy and renown. Titles and series published under his editorial control or with his assistance include the Modern Criminal Science Series (9 vols.), Select Essays in Anglo-American Legal History (3 vols.), the Modern Legal Philosophy Series (12 vols.), the Continental Legal History Series (10 vols.), the Evolution of Law Series (3 vols.), Sources of Ancient and Primitive Law (1915) and Science and Learning in France (1917). In spare moments he authored many score of law review articles, comments, and notes as well as topical pieces and book reviews for general interest magazines and newspapers.

Wigmore was also very active in the work of academic organizations and professional associations of the legal community. He served as the second president of the American Association of University Professors. He was a leading member of the American Bar Association and the first chairman of its Section of International and Comparative Law. He organized the National Conference on Criminal Law and Criminology in 1909. From this issued the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology; Wigmore was its first president. He was influential in the development of the American Judicature Society, helped establish both the Air Law Institute and the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory at Northwestern University, and contributed to the work of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and to the Illinois Commission on Uniform State Laws.

Wigmore married Emma Hunt Vogl (born July 26, 1860) of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1889. Their marriage was long, happy, and characterized by exceptional and mutual devotion. Wigmore drew upon his wife's talents to aid him in his professional duties and especially in the completion of his publications. Generations of students knew her as the considerate first lady of Northwestern's School of Law. The Wigmores traveled extensively both in the United States and abroad. Their itineraries nearly always brought them to places of legal interest: courts and legislative halls, governmental buildings, law schools, the homes and offices of distinguished jurists, and historic sites of the profession.

John Henry Wigmore died in Chicago on April 20, 1943. Emma Wigmore died four months later on August 22nd. Their remains are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The Wigmores had no children.

A great deal has been written on the life and career of John Henry Wigmore. The most extensive consideration is William R. Roalfe's John Henry Wigmore, Scholar and Reformer (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1977). Many shorter works by a number of authors may be found filed at Box 1, folders 6 through 9 of the Wigmore papers. Bibliographies of Wigmore's voluminous writings are filed at Box 1, Folders 4 and 5. Finally, “Recollections of Dean Wigmore,” a collection of biographical reminiscences edited by Albert Kocourek, may be found at Box 17, Folders 8 through 11 and Box 18, Folders 1 through 3

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

John Henry Wigmore (1863-1943) Papers

Identifier: 17/20
Abstract The papers span the period 1868-1999 although the vast bulk date from the late-1880s to 1943, the year of Wigmore's death. Wigmore was an inveterate correspondent and a person of catholic interests. The papers include material of considerable importance to the investigation of law, legal scholarship and the work of legal and quasi-legal institutions such as bar associations and organizations promoting, for example, the study of criminology, international law, and comparative legal...
Dates: 1868-1999