Walter F. Mondale ’56: A Lasting Legacy
A new Law Library exhibit traces an extraordinary career
Through decades of public service, Walter F. Mondale ’56 (1928–2021) left an indelible legacy. His achievements
in Minnesota, Congress, and the
White House are a testament to
his great courage and integrity. Mondale’s enduring contributions were driven by his vision for a country bound by its commitments to fairness, justice, and opportunity. His passing in 2021 marked the loss of a great leader and a loyal friend to the Law School’s wide community. Though we grieve his death, we also commemorate his outstanding life and legacy.
A new exhibit in the Law Library’s Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center traces Mondale’s career through photographs and text. The exhibit follows the vice president from his formative years in Minnesota to his service as a U.S. senator, the vice president of the United States, and the Democratic nominee for president in 1984. It also focuses on his close relationship with the Law School whose building bears his name. As Mondale recounted at the dedication of Walter F. Mondale Hall in 2001, “What I learned at the University of Minnesota Law School opened my door to the world.”
By any measure, Mondale’s public service was extraordinary. After graduating from the Law School in 1956 and serving in the U.S. Army, he worked on local political campaigns. Friends and mentors Orville Freeman and Hubert Humphrey helped propel Mondale onto the political stage. In 1960, as the youngest attorney general in the country, Mondale led reforms for which he was quickly recognized. His star rapidly ascended with his appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Humphrey in 1964.
Mondale would later say that he found his “sweet spot” in the U.S. Senate, where he served for 12 years. His legislative efforts helped usher in a new Democratic party. He focused among other issues on civil rights, consumer rights, education, child- care, and the environment and crafted legislation that still has an impact today. In relation to civil rights, his work on the Fair Housing Act of 1968 became a signature contribution. He was also active in promoting government accountability and transparency and remained interested throughout his life in balancing national security needs with constitutional rights.
In 1976, Mondale agreed to be Jimmy Carter’s vice presidential running mate on the condition that he would become a full partner in the administration and a close adviser to Carter. As vice president, Mondale helped to shape foreign and domestic policy unlike any vice president before him. In the foreign policy arena, where he was particu- larly active, Mondale was significantly involved in initiating talks resulting in the the 1978 Camp David Accords, improving U.S.–China relations, and opposing apartheid.
Although his 1984 bid for the presidency was unsuccessful, Mondale’s choice of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate was historic, marking the first time that a woman ran as a major party nominee for vice president. Mondale was later appointed by President Bill Clinton as Ambassador to Japan, a role in which he served from 1993–96. In his last two decades, Mondale remained active in the Democratic party and in Washington politics. He was also a long-time partner and senior counsel at Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis.
For more than 60 years, Walter
Mondale’s commitment to the
Law School added another bright flame to his legacy. He acted as an adviser to the Law School and delivered the commencement address to several graduating classes. In 1978, he served as keynote speaker at the dedication of the new Law School building, and in 2001, the building was renamed in his honor. He also returned to lecture, notably in the Great Cases course of professor Robert Stein ’61. Mondale participated graciously in Law School events and remained affectionately connected to students, faculty, and fellow alumni. In the same spirit, the current library exhibit honors Mondale’s monumental legacy. For more information about the exhibit, or to schedule a tour, please contact Ryan Greenwood (rgreenwo@umn. edu; 612-625-7323).
Ryan Greenwood is a Law Library faculty member and curator of rare books and special collections