Erwin Nathaniel Griswold (July 14, 1904-November 19, 1994) was born in East Cleveland, Ohio. He was the first child of two Oberlin College alumni: attorney James Harlen (1873-1950; A.B. Oberlin 1898) and Hope (Erwin) Griswold (1877-1962; Ph.B. DePauw University, 1901; enr. Oberlin College, 1898-1900). Following his graduation from Cleveland's Shaw High School in 1921, Griswold enrolled at Oberlin College, where he earned the A.B. (Phi Beta Kappa) in mathematics and the A.M. in political science in 1925. He entered Harvard University Law School in the fall of 1925 and in 1926 won election to the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review, serving as its president during the year 1926/27. He graduated with the LL.B. in 1928 summa cum laude and stayed on to "clerk" for Professor Austin Wakeman Scott (b. 1884), an expert on the law of trusts. Griswold received the S.J.D. (Doctor of Juristic Science) degree in 1929. He received the LL.D. from several universities, including Harvard University (1953), the Universities of Sydney (1951) and Melbourne (1951) in Australia, Princeton University (1968) and Oberlin College (1982). In 1964, he received the D.C.L. (Doctor of Civil Law) degree from Oxford University. He was admitted to the Ohio State Bar in 1929, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts bar in 1935, the District of Columbia bar in 1973, and to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1932.
After a mere six weeks practicing law with the Cleveland firm of Griswold, Green, Palmer & Hadden (his father's firm), Griswold moved to Washington, D.C. to work in the Office of the Solicitor General Charles Evans Hughes, Jr. In 1934, he returned to Cambridge for a one-year appointment as Assistant Professor on the Harvard Law School faculty; he was promoted to full professor in 1935. He assumed the post of Dean of the Faculty of Law and Charles Stebbins Fairchild Professor of Law in 1946. Griswold's tenure as Dean was marked by change. It saw the enlargement of the school's curriculum to include such specialized topics as labor relations, family law, and copyright; the admission of women (1949); the appointment of many new faculty, among them Derek Bok, Kingman Brewster, Archibald Cox, and Alan Dershowitz; and the expansion of the Law School's physical plant, library holdings, and financial resources.
Griswold held several trustee positions throughout his career, but in no such position did he serve longer than as a trustee of Oberlin College. He was elected in 1936, retired in 1980, but remained active as an Honorary Trustee until his death in 1994. From his office in Cambridge and during visits over more than 60 years, he maintained an intimate involvement with the life of the college in all its aspects, administrative, financial, academic, and social. He served on numerous committees of the Board and was instrumental in securing the appointments of presidents William E. Stevenson (1900-85) and Robert Kenneth Carr (1908-79) in 1945 and 1959. Once in office, these presidents regularly sought his counsel. During the governance controversies of the years 1959 to 1973, Griswold sought to join the weight of the Board of Trustees to the power of the college presidency in order to counterbalance what he and others viewed as the increasingly unopposed authority of the faculty.
After two decades of service, Dean Griswold retired from the Harvard deanship in 1967 as Langdell Professor of Law Emeritus. On the day of his retirement, October 23, he was confirmed as U.S. Solicitor General. Serving under presidents Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-73) and Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994), he argued more cases before the Supreme Court than almost any other lawyer in history. In 1971, Griswold took the government's position on non-disclosure in New York Times Co. v. United States, the "Pentagon Papers" case, which the government lost. At age 69, in 1973, he retired from public life to join the Washington offices of Jones, Day, Reavis, and Pogue, where he practiced as a partner and as a mentor to young lawyers.
Griswold's many legal publications include Spendthrift Trusts (Albany: M. Bender, 1936, 2nd ed., 1947), Cases and Materials on Federal Taxation (Chicago: Foundation Press, 1940, 6th ed., 1966), Cases on Conflict of Laws (Chicago: Foundation Press, 1941, rev. ed. 1964), The 5th Amendment Today (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954), Law and Lawyers in the United States (London: Stevens, 1964, Hamlyn Lectures), and Federal Income Taxation: Principles and Policies (1976). He contributed many articles to professional journals and authored numerous book reviews, special lectures, and In Memoriam remarks. His autobiography is entitled, Ould Fields, New Corne: The Personal Memoirs of a Twentieth Century Lawyer (St. Paul: West Publishing, 1992).
Griswold was a trustee of Bradford Junior College (1942-49); the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (1942-46); and the Harvard Law Review Association (1938-67). He was a fellow and former vice-president (1946-48) of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences; a former president of the Association of American Law Schools (1957-58); a former president of the American Bar Foundation (1971-74); and a former director of the American Council of Learned Societies. From 1961 to 1967, he served as a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. He is a fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Bencher, Inner Temple (London).
On December 30, 1931, Griswold married Harriet Allena Ford. They had two children, Hope Eleanor (A.B. Oberlin 1954) and William Erwin (A.B. Oberlin 1959). Griswold established the James H. and Hope E. Griswold fund, the Oberlin College Library's largest endowed acquisitions fund, in memory of his parents. He died on November 19, 1994, at 90 years of age.