W. David Curtiss - Clip 1

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W. David Curtiss


Franklin Fink

Resource Type

Video Interview

Date of Recording





From the video archives of the Cornell Law School Heritage Project. The interviewer is Frank Fink; the videographer, Thomas R. Bruce. This video covers reflections by W. David Curtiss on the special qualities of the Cornell Law School, the satisfactions of a long career of teaching at Cornell, and the contributions of his mentor, John W. MacDonald.

David Curtiss received both his AB (1938) and LLB (1940) from Cornell. As an undergraduate he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and as a law student to the Order of the Coif. He opened his own law office in Sodus after graduation and became the youngest District Attorney in New York State when he was appointed D.A. of Wayne Country in 1941.During WWII he served in the Navy and was discharged with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

After joining the faculty at the University of Buffalo Law School in 1946, he returned to Cornell in 1947 where he taught for nearly 40 years specializing in criminal law and local government law. He retired as Professor of Law Emeritus in 1986. After retirement he launched a new career in the field of labor arbitration and mediation, and began research on a biography of Myron C. Taylor, the principal benefactor of the present home of Cornell Law School.

Professor Curtiss was elected Faculty Trustee of Cornell from 1966-71 and also served as Associate Dean of the Law School 1958-62, but he is most remembered for his committed and compassionate teaching. His legacy lies with thousands of students who remember him with admiration and affection.In his honor the Class of 1952 established the W. David Curtiss Scholarship in 2007.

In the 1950s David Curtiss recorded a radio segment for the "This I Believe" project. Drawing on his experiences as soldier, law student, and attorney he said, "I believe that it is wishful thinking for anyone to expect a return to the good old days of certainty and stability, since change and uncertainty are among the most characteristic aspects of our times. This being true, I came to realize that the important thing in life was to learn to accept these changes, to live with uncertainty, and above all to be flexible enough to adjust to whatever situations might arise."

He was born in 1916 and died in 2011 at the age of 94.


Cornell Law School, Cornell Law School alumni, Law professors


Legal Education


The initial phase of this project was sponsored by a generous grant from the law firm of Sutherland Asbill and Brennan LLP. Clip 1 of 2.