Erwin Nathaniel Griswold was born to parents James Harlen and Hope (Erwin) on July 14, 1904 in East Cleveland, Ohio. Griswold graduated from Oberlin College in 1925. In 1928, Griswold graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Law School. Throughout his career he received numerous honorary degrees from many prestigious universities including, Columbia, Northwestern, Brown, and the University of Sydney. After being admitted to the Ohio bar in 1929, Griswold was a partner in the Cleveland law firm Griswold, Green, Palmer & Hadden, but he soon joined the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General as a staff attorney and served as a special assistant to the attorney general from 1929-1934. He became an expert at arguing tax cases before the Supreme Court, and was considered one of the great legal scholars in the tax field.
Griswold joined the Harvard faculty in 1934, first as an associate legal professor, and then as a full professor from 1935-1946. Known by his Harvard peers for an extremely keen intellect, Griswold was made dean of Harvard Law School from 1946-1967. As a dominant figure in American legal education, he doubled the size of the faculty and oversaw the enrollments of the first female students in 1950. In 1979, as an honorary gesture for his impact on the Harvard community, Harvard dedicated Griswold Hall, housing the deanís office, faculty offices, and a classroom.
In the 1950s, Griswold served as an expert witness for Thurgood Marshall, who was then the legal director of the NAACP, in several cases that the association brought to lay the foundation for the Supreme Courtís desegregation order in Brown v. Board of Education . Griswold was a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from 1961-1967. In October 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Griswold to serve as solicitor general, where he advocated in support of the Great Society legislation. He stayed on board as SG into President Nixonís presidency. In one of the more controversial cases of the 1970s, Griswold advocated the governmentís position that the courts should bar newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers.
After his SG service, Griswold returned to private law practice in 1973 with Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue in Washington, D.C. He continued to argue cases before the Supreme Court until 1994. From 1983-1994, he served the U.S. government as a liaison between U.S. and Soviet lawyers in the Lawyers Alliance Nuclear Arms Control. Griswold also served as the president of the Association of American Law Schools from 1957 to 1958, and the American Bar Foundation from 1971-1974. In 1978, the American Bar Association awarded Griswold the gold medal for his outstanding contributions and service to the legal community.
Griswold wrote several books including Spendthrift Trusts (1936), Cases on Federal Taxation (1940), Cases on Conflict Laws (1942), and arguably his most popular, The Fifth Amendment Today, Law and Lawyers in the United States (1992). Erwin Griswold passed away on November 19, 1994, in Boston, at the age of 90. He was survived by his wife of 62 years, Harriet Allena Ford, children James Harlen, Hope Erwin, as well as five grandchildren.