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"The People's Attorney": Youth

Louis David Brandeis was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on November 13, 1856, the youngest of four children to the first-generation immigrants from Prague, Adolph and Frederika [Dembitz] Brandeis. Adolph, one of the many Europeans who came to the United States in the wake of the abortive 1848 Revolutions, eventually prospered in local business. Brandeis’ childhood, with sisters Fanny (b. 1850), Amy (b.1852) and brother Alfred (b. 1854), was spent in relative comfort. Brandeis excelled as a student, earning a gold medal from the Louisville public school system for distinction in his studies.

Brandeis and brother Alfred (1864)

Adolph Brandeis, father (1822-1906)

Sigmund Dembitz, maternal grandfather

Frederika Dembitz Brandeis, mother (1828-1901)

Business sign: Brandeis & Crawford, Louisville, KY (1856) [Adolph Brandeis’ grain business]

Brandeis at age 2 (1858)

Brandeis at age 8 (1864)

Brandeis at age 15 (1871)

An early notebook of Brandeis.

In 1872 and in part due to economic misfortunes associated with Reconstruction and the coming depression, Adolph sold off the Brandeis business holdings and the family left Louisville for an extended stay in Europe. While abroad, Brandeis failed at his first go of a European education, falling short of the admission standards of the Vienna Gymnasium. For some months thereafter, Brandeis traveled widely with his father and brother. Attending the Annen-Realschule in Dresden, Germany, during the years 1873 to 1875, he again received commendations from the faculty.

Brandeis and brother Alfred (1881)

Brandeis at age 20 (1876)

Louisville High School, attended by Brandeis in the early 1870s

The first legal brief of Louis Brandeis, (written while working for his brother-in-law James Taussig) October 1878

Upon his return to America in 1875, Brandeis opted for a career in law, influenced in part by his uncle Lewis Dembitz, a noted Louisville attorney (who served as such a positive role model that Brandeis would later change his middle name from David to Dembitz). He applied to and was accepted by Harvard Law School, where he enrolled just shy of the age of 19, without any prior formal higher education. Brandeis did exceptionally well in the law program; despite Harvard’s rule that one must be 21 years of age to obtain a legal degree, Brandeis graduated in 1877 as class valedictorian. After practicing law briefly in St. Louis with his brother-in-law James Taussig, Brandeis returned to Boston and established the firm Brandeis-Warren in 1879 with a fellow student from Harvard, Samuel D. Warren.

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