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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Portland's "Experimental" Woman Jury, Part IV: The Oregonian Prints the Results of the "Telephone Summons"

On December 1, 1912 in a very long article (part of which is reproduced here) the Oregonian presented the specific reactions of the women telephoned about service on the "experimental" all female jury in police court. The list was different from the one reported by the Oregon Journal, with some of the same names but many others.

Judge Tazwell "appointed a citizen to draw the special venire, and he spent most of the afternoon at the telephone with a list of addresses before him and a very puzzled woman at the other end of the wire," the Oregonian reported. "Just for curiosity he jotted down the substance of the answers he received, and here they are. . ." Just for curiosity?

The paper did not identify this "citizen" but the Oregonian made much of the list, and of course mined the "substance" of the answers for press value. We can't know how accurate these "responses" were, but the report seems designed to highlight the idea that most women did not want to participate. The "experimental" all female jury came about, in part, because of a scarcity of men who would serve. But the humor that slid into ridicule at times in this report was loaded with negative views about the women who would not serve and shadowed even some of the women who agreed to serve with sarcasm.

"First Women Jury Has Woman's Case," Oregonian, December 1, 1912, 1, 13.
Mrs. A.E. Clark would "serve if needed, but I would not be tried by a jury of women myself." She also told the caller she would like to consult her husband (a lawyer). The caller noted that with emancipation women "don't have to consult the mister," to which Clark replied that women were not yet "accustomed to our new liberty."

Mrs. J.A. Dougherty thought it was a joke and "refused."

Esther Goodman, an opponent of woman suffrage, said she was not ready for jury service and declined.

Mrs. H. L. Chapin asked "who will the other women be?" and would serve "if my husband doesn't object."

Mrs. A.J. Capron said it "would be a great trial to me to go" and declined.

Mrs. Peter Borgan was at a loss for words and didn't think she could do it. She also wanted to consult with her husband and was dismissed.

Mrs. O.C Bortzmeyer accepted, as did teacher and suffragist May Newill (though she first said she "always understood that teachers were exempt.") Oregonian columnist Leone Cass Baer also agreed. "I always want to go where I can learn something new," she said, "even if it is to Police Court." (She would write about her experience as we'll soon see.)

Mrs. Jessie G. Bennett said no, and Mrs. George E. Bingham expressed only "frank personal distaste." Mrs. H. H. Herdman did not feel competent to serve.

Mrs. E. N. Blythe said that she had to care for her children, and Mrs. Harrison Allen also claimed "home cares." Mrs. William Beck declined due to illness in the family. Mrs. Byron Miller said she was no politician and would have to ask her husband.

Mrs. Lansing Stout declined, but noted that "I should think that you could get any number of the women who advocated suffrage." Mrs. T.L. Perkins said she needed more time to study and prepare.

Paul Bates had joked with his wife that she was now liable for jury service after reading about the experimental jury in the paper and she thought that the call was his joke. After finding it was real she agreed to serve. Mrs. O.K. Jeffrey also thought it was a prank, but she agreed when she found the call was legitimate. Mrs. W.T. Pangle agreed, stating that "if they are all women, I have no objection." She wanted, the Oregonian reported, to know who else was serving.

Suffragist Mary Cachot Therkelsen agreed, noting "I have the privilege of voting, and I will take all the responsibilities. And the Oregonian gave a paragraph to Viola Coe's response with different details that the Oregon Journal's version.

"'Yes, certainly, I shall be very pleased,' was the hearty response of Mrs. Henry Waldo Coe . . . Later the new 'juroress' burst in upon the assemblage at a room in her house where Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway, Governor West, and a delegation of prominent suffragists had assembled to proclaim the adoption of the suffrage amendment, with the news of her selection. She and her announcement were received with hearty applause by those present, Governor West joining the acclaim."

The report concluded: "Wherefore, tomorrow morning, the blue-coated policeman on the beat will ring the bell at the doors of mansions, apartment houses and cottages, and will hand to ten delighted women their credentials as members of the first body of its kind to be brought together in the state. And two days later, the grimy Municipal Court will witness what it never saw before, six well-dressed and reputable women sitting upon the question of the guilt or innocence of one of their less fortunate sisters. It is predicted that there will be standing room only, and little of that, when the case is called."

Under the editorial watch of Harvey Scott, brother of suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway, the Oregonian had opposed woman suffrage until his death in 1910 and had given lukewarm attention to the 1912 campaign. The paper's coverage of the all-female jury contributed to the spectacle, and this particular report questioned most women's commitment to jury service as a civic duty and opportunity to exercise citizenship.

More on the build-up to the "standing room only" trial in the next post.

1 comment:

  1. One wonders what the rate of male juror service was in 1912; certainly, today, both sexes seem to work equally hard at getting out of jury duty.