University of Iowa
Return to top

Lea VanderVelde

Lea VanderVelde
Josephine R. Witte Chair

Lea VanderVelde writes in the fields of work law, property law, American legal history, and constitutional law.

She is currently using digital research technologies to examine American national expansion in the critical years before the Civil War.  As principal investigator for The Law of the Antebellum Frontier project at the Stanford Spatial History Lab, she is analyzing the legal and cultural mechanisms at work in developing states out of U.S. territories. Understanding the discourse about state-building sheds light upon how empires expand and how American expansion into the Ohio and Mississippi river basins shaped American identity and the Reconstruction amendments. More about the project can be found at

Professor VanderVelde has been actively engaged in the debate over the ALI’s recently promulgated Restatement of Employment Law.   She organized and hosted the 2011 Experts Conference on the Restatement of Employment Law, held at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago.

She has taught at Yale Law School and the University of Pennsylvania and the Juridicum of the University of Vienna.

In 2011 she was the Guggenheim fellow in Constitutional Studies.


She is a member of the Wisconsin bar, the Labor Law Group, and the American Law Institute.


In celebration of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude, Professor VanderVelde is publishing two articles that build on her classic article, “The Labor Vision of the 13th Amendment.”
Forthcoming is an article on Senator Henry Wilson’s role in advancing the Amendment’s success in Congress, and an article on the cessation of masters’ violence against servants in American history.   

Her recent books are Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier (2009) and Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom before Dred Scott (2014).  The book tells 12 stories of enslaved families turning to the courts to establish their freedom based upon the discovery of almost 300 freedom suits brought by slaves in the St. Louis courts.

She is also at work on a monograph, entitled The Master Narrative of 19th Century Law, which explores how master-servant law resisted the forces of modernization and continues to reinforce employee subordination.

Her trio of articles, published in the Yale and Stanford law journals, demonstrated the hidden significance of gender in the historical development of rules in contracts, torts, and constitutional litigation.  The articles are respectively: "The Gendered Origins of Specific Performance Doctrine" (1992). "The Legal Ways of Seduction" and "Mrs. Dred Scott," the article, with Sandhya Subramanian.


BS, University of Wisconsin, 1974

JD, University of Wisconsin, 1978