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Monday, June 6, 2011

Portland's "Experimental" Woman Jury Part VI: Mary Cachot Therkelsen on Full Citizenship

The first all-female "experimental" jury in Portland convened for trial on Wednesday,  December 4, 1912 in the municipal court. The trial began in the late afternoon and so the morning newspaper, the Oregonian, and the two evening papers, the Oregon Journal and the Portland Evening Telegram, had one more day to print anticipatory information before having actual trial events. This coverage perpetuated the contradictory images and assessments of women jurors that we've seen in prior posts.

That morning the Oregonian reported that in anticipation of large crowds some suggested to Judge Tazwell that "the trial should be adjourned to some more roomy chamber, but this idea was abandoned, on the ground that the first woman jury in Oregon should have a stage-setting under ordinary working conditions such as the husbands and brothers of the new electors have had hitherto." So the proceedings would be held in the "second story room in the dingy old City Jail building" with room for only 100 people. These news accounts, we may suppose, also contributed to the swell of the crowds.

The paper also noted that "fearing that some embarrassment might be caused Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway through the serving upon her yesterday of an honorary summons to the jury" the court reassured her that her appearance was voluntary "but if her health permitted her to attend she would be the first to be called into the box." Husbands, the Oregonian noted, would attend. And the article quoted "a suffragist" as saying that women were not prepared for jury duty but rather "fitted for afternoon teas."

"First Woman Jury Tries Case Today," Oregonian, December 4, 1912, 17.

The evening Oregon Journal went to press as the courtroom was filling. The paper reported in detail the efforts some Portlanders made to get in -- "Judge Tazwell and Court Clerk Beutgen have been besieged for reserved seats the last 24 hours" -- and repeated the fears of a collapsing floor.

The Journal continued its supportive stance regarding the women jurors." The "women who have been subpoenaed on the jury panel are not curious," the Journal reported. "They are entering the case with too much seriousness for that, for they regard it as a sort of test for all women of their ability to exercise the requirements of citizenship." It noted also that the subpoena for Duniway was "made honorary" because of her health.

Mary Cachot Therkelsen, one of the jurors, noted that she was "glad to serve . . . I'm anxious to acquaint myself with all the duties of citizenship." And, she continued, "the sooner we begin the better, too, for it's necessary for us to know all the duties that go with citizenship before we can exercise it intelligently. Before very long, I expect the various women's clubs to resolve themselves into civic organizations, and we must know all about such things as jury duty in order that we may teach other women who do not."

Cachot Therkelsen's comments, captured by the Journal in the midst of the building spectacle of the trial, are vital clues to the way many Oregon women may have approached the question of jury service. Cachot Therkelsen, trained as a physician and active in the suffrage campaign, believed that full citizenship required understanding and experiencing all of the civic obligations it entailed.

"Ten women have been subpenaed [sic]," the Journal noted, "but the subpenas [sic] really are not necessary to insure their attendance, they made it clear today, because, like Mrs. Therkelsen, they desire to serve."

"Woman Jury is Biggest Attraction the Municipal Court Ever Has Had," Oregon Journal, December 4, 1912, 1.
The Portland Evening Telegram repeated some of this information and provided additional details. Officials had discovered a "large crack in the front wall" of the temporary building for the municipal court and jail and Police Chief Slover was limiting the spectators to 200 in number.

"Stylishly dressed women mingled with poorly dressed men in the scramble for seats" and some brought their lunches "and to pass the time poured over novels and magazines." This reinforced the idea that "society women" were interested and participating.

The Telegram also reported continuing interest on the part of Portland women to participate as jurors. "Telephone calls have kept Municipal Clerk Beutgen and Assistant Neil Crounse busy all morning informing women that the jury panel had been filled. Many applicants have expressed their desire to serve, one enthusiastic woman routing Judge Tazwell out of bed a 6 o'clock this morning with a request to be subpenaed [sic]."

"Crowd to Trial by Woman Jury," Portland Evening Telegram, December 4, 1912, 1

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