Lea VanderVelde

University of Iowa Distinguished Chair
Director of the RAOS project, (Reconstruction Amendment Optical Scanning)

Lea VanderVelde’s innovative work has been published in many of the nation’s leading law reviews. She has also authored five major books: two works of history, two leading casebooks, and a primer for text analysis. She has lectured at universities and conferences all over the world. 

For more on Professor VanderVelde's scholarship please visit vandervelde.studio.uiowa.edu.

Professor VanderVelde’s researches how our current American law of civil rights and civil liberties were formed during the 19th century. Many of her articles bring new light to how the Thirteenth Amendment could be interpreted in the modern day.

She wrote the groundbreaking biography, Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier, which is one of the first published biographies of an illiterate person, someone whose life changed the path of constitutional development. It tells the story of the nation’s most infamous lawsuit from the perspective of the woman and mother who held the case together. She is also the author of Redemption Songs, which documents the lives and experiences of 12 families of enslaved people suing for freedom, as they moved west.

She has been pursuing digital research technologies for two decades, particularly to examine American national expansion in the critical years before the Civil War and during the Reconstruction Congress debates. The RAOS project, which she started more than 20 years ago, has successfully digitized the Congressional debates from 1863 to 1873 and The Territorial Papers of the states of the Northwest Territory.

She has engaged in several initiatives to advance civil liberties and end modern slavery. She has also authored several amicus briefs.  

She was the Guggenheim fellow in Constitutional Studies for 2011, the May Brodbeck Humanities fellowship for 2019, and 2020 winner of the Brophy prize for best article in legal history published in the American Journal of Legal history.

She is a life fellow of the American Law Institute, where she was active in the Restatement of Employment Law and the Restatement of Agency.  She is an OAH Distinguished lecturer.

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Practice and Teaching: 

  • Reconstruction and the Constitution
  • Work Law  
  • 19th c. American Legal History
  • Property Law
  • Land Use
  • Labor, Employment, & Work Law
  • Gender & the Law
  • Law of the Frontier


  • Wisconsin Bar
  • Labor Law Group
  • American Law Institute
Research areas
  • Labor and Employment Law
Lea VanderVelde (2)
BS, University of Wisconsin, 1974
JD, University of Wisconsin, 1978