"Lon L. Fuller was one of the four most important American legal theorists of the last hundred years."
Important note to readers: This biography is a work in progress currently being compiled from original family documents and photographs. It should be considered a draft, not for citation. Last update: April 8, 2013
Professor Lon L. Fuller's life began in modest circumstances. He was born in 1906 in Hereford, Texas under the name of Jean (the French for John, as in Jean Valjean) Luvois Fuller. His parents were Salome Moore Fuller and Francis Bartow Fuller. Francis was one of the Texas Rangers and most likely worked in banking in Texas. Salome chose the name for her baby boy based on a novel she was reading when pregnant in which the main character was a Frenchman named "Jean Luvois." After being thought a girl one too many times, Lon changed his own first name as a young man, but kept the middle name. The family soon was complete with the arrival of younger sister Frances.
The Fullers were part of a diaspora of destitute, formerly property-owning white southerners out of southern states after the Civil War. Francis Bartow's relative, Samuel Overton Fuller, was a cavalry officer for the Confederate Army who disappeared during battle, presumed dead. It is said that his horse returned home, but Samuel's body was never found.
When Lon and Frances were young, the family moved from Texas to El Centro, California. There, Francis Bartow headed, or possibly founded, the First National Bank of El Centro and the family enjoyed relative prosperity in what was then a small farming town in the low desert of California's Central Valley.
When it came time for college, Lon headed to Leland Stanford Junior University, which was then less than thirty years old. There, Lon met Florence Gail Thompson. Florence was part of a large and close family with roots in Indiana on her mother's side and in Alberta, Canada on her father's side. Born in Nebraska, had come to Stanford from Southern California where her family had first visited as a haven from harsh winters and eventually put down roots -- primarily in Pasadena.
Lon earned his bachelor's degree in 1924 and stayed at Stanford for law school, earning his law degree in 1926. Florence earned her bachelor's degree. The couple married on August 11, 1926 in Spring Coulee, Alberta, the small town where some of the Thompsons' farms and other property were located.
During his last year of law school, Lon lined up the first of several law school teaching positions he would hold in the course of his long career as a law professor.
He and Florence headed to the University of Oregon at Eugene. In Eugene, the first of Lon and Gail's two children, Francis Brock Fuller, was born in 1927. Lon taught at Oregon for two years before taking a position on the law faculty of the University of Illinois where he spent three years teaching courses on "equity, mortgages, suretyship and personal property."
In 1931, Lon moved the family to Durham, North Carolina and began a long teaching career at Duke University Law School. There, Lon and Florence's daughter Cornelia was born in 1932. Durham proved an enduring childhood home for Brock and Cornelia and Lon's career as a teacher and scholar began in earnest.
Lon's tenure at Duke gave the family opportunities to travel. The family spent a period of time in Paris in the early 1930's. Lon enjoyed photography and maintained a darkroom at his homes in Durham and, later, Cambridge. Here are some of his photographs from the trip to France.
Lon took a visiting professor post at USC one summer, which gave the family the opportunity to spend time in Southern California where Florence's mother, siblings and nieces and nephews lived. Here is a family photograph taken that summer.