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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Portland's "Experimental" Woman Jury Part VII: Portland Evening Telegram Coverage of the December 4, 1912 Trial and Mattie McArthur

Portland's three daily newspapers all covered the December 4, 1912 trial that featured an all-female "experimental" jury. The Portland Evening Telegram, a Republican daily, presented the police court as a dramatic stage on which gender relations and ideology played out.

"Defendant Flees From Woman Jury," Portland Evening Telegram, December 5, 1912, 1.


The Evening Telegram began its extensive coverage on the front page. "One glance at the courtroom, packed to suffocation with women who wanted to see and hear her, and Marcelle Bortell, of the underworld, exclaimed 'Not for me!' and fled. And then, in her absence, she was tried on a charge of keeping a disorderly house by the first woman jury in Oregon."

The "scene" was one of a kind, the paper noted. "So great was the crowd of women who wedged their way into the dingy, smelly courtroom of Municipal Judge Tazwell that the building threatened to collapse." The police "weeded out" men in the chairs but women stayed. "The lobby was thronged, the office downstairs was filled and a crowd assembled outside. Several times during the afternoon yesterday the floor quivered under the strain, but there was no accident."

Photo from "Woman Prisoner Flees Jury of Her Own Sex," Portland Evening Telegram, December 5, 1912, 12.
The Telegram reported on the dress and deportment of the mostly "middle-aged, matronly women" who remained in their seats after Judge Tazwell admonished that there would be frank language and information during the trial. "In court, a spade is called a spade," he said, "and things are called by their right names." The women on the jury (the Telegram referred to them as "juroresses") were sworn in and the trial began.

Defense attorney W. E. Farrell presented the defendant, Marcelle Bortell, as a woman with whom all the other women in the courtroom could relate. She was so disturbed by the assembled crowd that she could not appear. "Remember, she is a woman -- weak-kneed, perhaps -- but a woman and she faltered when she came to the door of the courtroom. She had the chagrin and fright any lady would have."

Deputy city attorney Ray Sullivan used gender differently and emphasized the differences between the defendant and the women in the jury and audience. "A woman of the underworld . . . it one of the boldest creatures in the world and would not be afraid of facing a jury. A woman can size up one of this character instinctively--that's why the defendant did not appear. The question now involved is whether a jury of women will convict a woman of the underground and you will have to put your sentiments aside and remember the facts."

Bortell was charged with keeping a house of prostitution. "It was one of those cases so common in the Municipal Court," the Telegram reported, "distinctly nasty in details, but the audience was game and remained. When the testimony became too-off colored for repetition in the presence of women Judge Tazwell tilted back in his swivel chair and looked out the window across the street. One juror riveted her eyes to the floor throughout the trial; another gazed unblinking out a window; another flushed to her brow, several gripped their nether lip with their teeth and the rest stared, without displaying the least trace of emotion, at the witness."

Attorney W M "Pike" Davis joined Farrell for the defense. Davis had been a strong suffragist and chair of the Men's Equal Suffrage League of Multnomah County in the recent 1912 campaign. The Telegram noted that Davis placed the women jurors "in the same class with the defendant" when he told them that "this woman is your sister," something the Telegram felt was insulting. The report was critical of Davis in other ways: "Davis inserted a bouquet for himself for his campaign for suffrage, and, seeing a window open near the jury, he gallantly climbed through the crowd and shut it with ostentation." Davis, the Telegram noted, spent his time "interjecting his suffrage record and panning the police." The Telegram concluded "women resent being called sisters of the denizens of the underworld and . . . have great confidence in the police."

The jury was out for an hour and 40 minutes. The jurors selected were Mrs. W.T. Pangle, Mary Cachot Therkelsen, Leone Cass Baer, May (Mrs. A.C.) Newill, Viola Coe, Mrs. Paul C. Bates, Mrs. O.C. Bortzmeyer, Mrs. A.E. Clark, Laura Vinson and Ida M. Kayser. The group elected Viola Coe as foreperson. As the Telegram told it, "the jury agreed that Marcelle was a woman of loose character, and there they stuck." The final vote was divided five to five "and the court discharged the first jury to women in Oregon because they could not agree." (Much more on this in subsequent reports . . .)

The Telegram reported a straw poll among women in the spectator seats "at 6:30 among the women who had not gone home to prepare supper" and it revealed 25 for aquital and 22 for conviction. The paper printed what it represented as a discussion among the remaining women that ranged from sympathy to a discussion of the "white slave trade" to criticism of the defendant.

The Telegram review of the day of the trial concludes with this sentence: "There was one colored suffragette in the courtroom, Mrs. Mattie McArthur, Tenth and Stark Streets." McArthur does not appear in the 1912 Portland City Directory but the 1920 Census lists her as 31 years of age living with her husband Joseph, a drill press operator. (thanks Ancestry.com!).

Stay tuned for the other newspaper reports, editorials, Leone Cass Baer's "eyewitness" narrative, and how this might have influenced the Oregon attorney general's decision about women and jury service a week later . .

1 comment:

  1. Interesting... my great-grandfather John F. Carroll was the editor of the Portland Evening Telegram a the time this article was written.

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