The House that Built Holmes

Law & Hist. Rev., Aug. 2012, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 661-720

Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1208

62 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2012

See all articles by Brad Snyder

Brad Snyder

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: August 13, 2012


Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. became the first modern judge to attain iconic status. G. Edward White, the preeminent Holmes scholar of his generation, has argued that Holmes's canonization began with the "dramatic upsurge in the amount of commentary" in the late 1920s by reformers who appreciated his "modernist epistemology" and that Holmes and Brandeis achieved "the status of professional and cultural icons in the decade of the 1930s." This Article argues that Holmes's canonization began a decade earlier because of his association with a group of young progressives at the House of the Truth. During the 1910s, Felix Frankfurter, Walter Lippmann, and other progressives turned a Dupont Circle rowhouse into a salon, invited Washington establishment figures to frequent dinner and cocktail parties, and adopted Holmes as the House's hero. They canonized Holmes to attack the Court's anti-labor decisions. Holmes participated in his own canonization to further his ambitions of elite recognition. At age seventy, he was frustrated on the Court and considered retirement. He wrote for what Laurence Baum has described as a discrete judicial audience at the House of Truth. Holmes's canonization matters because it exemplifies canonization as political instrumentalism. The House wanted constitutional change; Holmes wanted recognition.

Keywords: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, House of Truth, progressives, Felix Frankfurter, Walter Lippmann, canonization, judicial canon

Suggested Citation

Snyder, Brad, The House that Built Holmes (August 13, 2012). Law & Hist. Rev., Aug. 2012, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 661-720; Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1208. Available at SSRN:

Brad Snyder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
608-262-1015 (Phone)


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