Once upon a time he was the most popular dog in Lebanon, perhaps the most famous dog in Tennessee. And, in the late 1930s, once you remove such movie star canines as Rin Tin, Toto and Asta off the list, he may even have been the most renowned dog in the U.S.
After all, Rascal was the only pooch to hold a law degree.
Following his death on Aug. 30, 1940, big-city newspapers across the land carried his obituary. Among major American dailies pronouncing his demise were The Tennessean, Atlanta Constitution, Louisville Courier-Journal, Salt Lake Tribune, Cincinnati Enquirer, Philadelphia Enquirer, Baltimore Evening Sun, Fort Worth Star Telegram and Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Being in the headlines was old hat to the white English bulldog, who had a splash or two of brown on his back, as the Associated Press reported in June 1937 that Cumberland University President E.L. Stockton formally conferred the degree of Doctor of Canine Jurisprudence on the law school’s mascot.
The pet belonged to Ed Smith, who lived in a white house on the southeast corner of Greenwood and West Main streets, across from Caruthers Hall, aka, “the Law Barn.” The mutt began attending class in the law school building across the street from the Smiths in 1931 or 1932.
The Smith family rented rooms to law students, and it seems likely that the friendly Rascal followed them daily into Judge Sam Gilreath’s lecture room. In the mid-1930s, the law students appealed to school officials that they should recognize the dog’s faithful attendance. Word at the time was that the dog had a better record than any of the students and that he cut class less often than the professors.
Law students noted that Rascal would stretch out on the speaker’s platform and one minute before the bell dismissed class, he would yawn, shake and mosey out of the classroom where he heard hundreds of legal lectures and moot court trials.
Thus, it was the dog, formally known as Rascality, received high honor on June 2, 1937, during a ceremony on campus just before law degrees were conferred on humans in the auditorium. Evidently there were some who objected, but Stockton obliged the students who wanted to see Rascal rewarded for his reportedly perfect attendance.
Stockton told the press, Rascal “has attended every day the law classes and the Bible class for law students every Sunday. After each law class I understand he had the habit of going with the boys to get an ice cream cone.”
Rascal’s reported response to the foofaraw, which was documented in a photograph of him wearing a graduation cap and holding his diploma between his paws, was to bark “bow wow.”
The school newspaper, The Cumberland Collegian, shared a bit more about the hoopla, in a Dec. 10, 1937, article, stating: Last June Rascal received the degree of canine jurisprudence at a special exercise at Caruthers Hall. On the morning before the exercises he was injured in an automobile accident while defending his legal domain, the lawn in front of the hall.
Because of his rugged constitution and dogged determination, Rascal, after treatment in a Lebanon hospital, was in his place to receive his degree. He is now taking a post-graduate course in law, according to Mrs. Ed Smith, mother of his master, Ed Jr., who is in the University of Tennessee this year. When Rascal was a puppy five years ago, he was given to the Smith family and Ed Jr. immediately claimed him. At the age of one year he became the youngest regular attendant in the history of the law school.
After Ed Jr. moved on to Knoxville, it seems law student J.V. (James Virgil) Morrow, also manager of the baseball team, took on the care of Rascal. Morrow conducted the dog to basketball games and trained him to bark fervently after each Cumberland basket. He also rewarded him with ice cream cones and popcorn.
In the fall of 1939, The Tennessean noted that the “official mascot of the CU Law School” would have a lead role as the program at the university’s annual homecoming day and that he would ride in the homecoming parade and perform during halftime of the football game. (Sorry, no video footage exists.)
Demise of the dog
That Saturday may have been the hound’s last hurrah as the living symbol of the Cumberland University Bulldogs died of a heart attack before the next homecoming rolled around. Evidently the pooch died quietly on the porch of a neighbor on a calm August evening three weeks before the fall semester opened.
The school paper’s headline on Oct. 4, 1940, announced “‘Rascal,’ a Gentleman and a Scholar, Victim of Heart Attack”, while The Lebanon Democrat reported “ ‘Rascal,’ Beloved Mascot of The Cumberland Bulldogs, Is Dead.”
The Democrat article stated that Rascal had been the official mascot of the Cumberland football team since 1934 and that he was present at all home games and frequently accompanied the team on trips. But the late G. Frank Burns, a Democrat reporter and Cumberland historian, penned years later that the dog didn’t like football and may never have gone to a football game and wrote “certainly the football players never thought of him as a mascot.”
The dog, who weighed 75 pounds in his prime, was a fighter and said to have been a “battle-scarred veteran of more than a hundred fights with others of his kind” but never lost a bout. His sole canine pal was a bird dog that he allowed access to the campus.
In its obituary, the Cumberland Collegian noted that Rascal was beloved by thousands of students and old grads but was the particular pet of the Cumberland Law School. As an aside, the Collegian reported that he disliked women intensely, while the law students maintained that he disliked literature students too.
Burns recorded that Rascal was buried on the north side of Caruthers Hall beneath the window of the classroom which he had faithfully attended. A marble headstone was placed at his grave with an epitaph that read: Here lies Rascal L.L.B. Attended CU Law School 9 Yrs. Crossed the Bar 1940. A funeral service was held with John Jamison offering the eulogy, and the Cumberland Quartet sang “The Eyes of Texas.”
Transfer to Samford University
In 1961, when Cumberland’s School of Law relocated to Howard College, now Samford University, in Birmingham, Ala., a few spades of earth from Rascal’s grave where dug up and placed in a metal coffee can. The soil was taken to the Samford campus and reinterred on the west side of Robinson Hall.
Burns insisted that Rascal’s bones “surely are still in Lebanon, three feet down, beneath the executive offices of the Lebanon Bank, whose building was erected on the site of Caruthers Hall.”
Meanwhile in Birmingham, each spring before final exams, Samford’s Cumberland School of Law faculty, staff and students honor Rascal with a jazz parade composed of two- and four-legged creatures that pass by his grave to commemorate one of the law school’s most memorable graduates. A eulogy is given by a professor, and dogs are given treats and toys while students munch a free lunch.
Morgan Black, Marketing and Communication Manager of the Brock School of Business and Cumberland School of Law, updated the school’s tradition, sharing, “We did not have Rascal Day this year due to COVID. Instead, we did a fun thing on our social media channels, primarily Facebook and Instagram, where we posted pictures of the dogs (and cats) of Cumberland.
“Because Law Week was cancelled due to the pandemic, it was the least we could do to lighten the mood and provide some sort of virtual event to commemorate the annual Rascal Day for the Cumberland family, especially for the class of 2020. Students, faculty and staff submitted their photos, and they were published them a few times a day for the whole week that would’ve been Law Week 2020 (Rascal Day is always the biggest event during Law Week). It was a hit!”
And the legend of Lebanon’s legal beagle Rascal lives on.
Sources for this article include: “Phoenix Rising: The Sesquicentennial History of Cumberland University 1842-1992,” by Frank Burns; July 11, 1937, “Parade”; 1936 Cumberland University yearbook; “Cumberland Collegian” issues: April 5, 1935; May 7, 1935; March 27, 1936, Oct. 3, 1937, Dec. 10, 1937, Oct. 4, 1940; “The Tennessean” Nov. 10, 1939; and Associated Press reports June 1937 and August 1940.