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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Portland's "Experimental" Woman Jury Part V: 10 to 8 Odds for Conviction and Fears of Women in the Jury Box

Many thanks to Sara Piasecki for commenting on the last blog post -- men were not flocking to the court for jury duty either! A "scarcity" of male jurors was one of the factors prompting the call for this all-female experimental jury. One of the complicating and interesting issues concerning this aspect of civic participation and equality is that jury service was not, and as Sara points out still is not, one of the most favored ways to express citizenship. Many people in December of 1912, male and female, appeared to see it as an "obligation" that was onerous and unpleasant. And this would figure into the continuing debate about women's jury service in the state.


The newspaper coverage of the experimental jury continued to be full of ambiguity, too, with some praise for the women who served but also with sensational claims that placed the women in a negative light and hostility and jokes about such service and the status of women as citizens. This ambivalence had been part of the suffrage campaign and newspapers were now applying it to this next phase of the campaign for women's civic rights.


As we've seen, the Oregonian published the "results" of the telephone summons of a number of Portland women and as the trial approached newspapers named various women as potential jurors. The articles suggested that most women did not want to serve. Even the Oregon Journal, more supportive of the just-completed successful woman suffrage campaign in Oregon, headlined "Women Anxious to Dodge Jury Duty" even though the text of the article recognized that men were not lining up for service. "That women are as anxious to escape jury service as men is shown by the efforts of the municipal court clerk to secure a list for the women jury," the paper noted, but the headline focused on women only.
"Women Anxious to Dodge Jury Duty," Oregon Journal, December 3, 1912, 17.
Meanwhile, as the municipal court prepared for the trial, the Portland Evening Telegram reported "a lively movement in the betting line and probably a score of wagers have been put up on the result" with 10 to 8 odds that the women would return a guilty verdict. "If the defendant was a man the betting might be different," the Telegram noted, "but the prisoner at the bar is a woman." And "to make the affair as interesting as possible, extra chairs will be provided in the courtroom to accommodate women spectators who may attend with the desire of learning some of the duties of citizenship"(to say nothing of other interested parties).


"It's 10 to 8 That Woman Jury Convicts," Portland Evening Telegram, December 3, 1912, 1.
The Telegram's editorial cartoonist prepared this front page commentary on women jurors the day the trial began, Wednesday, December 4, 1912:


"Trial by Jury," Portland Evening Telegram, December 4, 1912, 1.
"Trial by Jury" portrays a jury box filled with fashionable young women in front of a young and nattily dressed male defendant arrested ("pinched") and on trial for burglary. Their thoughts are not on justice nor their obligations as citizens; rather they coo "Isn't he handsome" as the exasperated judge strikes his gavel to restore order. Women jurors, the cartoon suggests, would disrupt the order of a courtroom and its civic proceedings and the community cannot expect justice from women who only consider the appearance of a criminal and can be easily fooled. (Throughout the subsequent campaign for women's jury service supporters would work to counter this image with that of serious female citizens on the one hand and male jurors dazzled by a well-dressed, beautiful female defendant on the other).


Come back to find out if the floorboards of the Portland Municipal Courtroom could withstand the stress of the crowds . . . and more on the construction of the image of the woman juror for Oregonians in this "experimental" all-female jury.

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