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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Portland's "Experimental" Woman Jury Part VIII: The Oregon Journal Coverage of the December 4, 1912 Trial--"The Courtroom Was Unsafe"

The Oregon Journal, the Democratic evening paper in Portland, included many of the same details as the Portland Evening Telegram's report and also demonstrated ambivalence about women jurors and repeated negative stereotypes about women. The Journal report, however, gives voice to some of the complexities of the jury deliberations and, significantly, a "demonstration" by women spectators claiming their own view of justice. All of this served to make the "unsafe" just as much as the reported structural weakness and quivering floor of the temporary municipal court.

"That old wolf cry of the anti-suffrage fold that giving the ballot to women would masculinize the sex and that no more would woman be womanly, received its death blow here yesterday," the Journal reported. "For Oregon's first woman jury, put for the first time in the setting of a police court and hearing for the first time the sordid and brutally frank testimony of a police court, did the typically feminine thing of being unable to agree." The defense argued that Marcelle Bortell was an "inmate" and not the operator of a house of prostitution as she had been charged. Eight of the ten women jurors, the Journal said, acted on "moral certainly of guilt," while two "held out unswervingly for a legal certainty according to the evidence." At the end of the process the jury was divided five to five.

By 7:00 in the evening, when they could not come to agreement, Judge Tazwell "sent them home to dinner. . . the decision proved vastly popular with a handful of husbands waiting hungrily for their wives to get through balloting and set the table."

"Woman Jury Splits on Rock of Moral Guilt: Eve, to Eve Erring, Is Still True to Tradition," Oregon Journal, December 5, 1912, 1 (article continued on p. 2 not reproduced here) 

When interviewed, the jurors revealed a more complex situation. "The five women who insisted on conviction throughout proposed to soften it a bit by asking Judge Tazwell to remit the fine against the woman, and to commend her otherwise to the mercy of the court." Viola Coe, "the forewoman, thought it would be a good idea to let the woman herself go, but bring into court some of the men mentioned by the police officers who testified, and convict and fine them instead." Mary Cachot Therkelsen noted that they all wanted leniency. ""We didn't place much credence in the testimony of those five policemen,'" she insisted.


The Journal recounted the back and forth between prosecutor Sullivan and defense attorney W M "Pike" Davis, who "'with Patrolman Sherwood on the stand, smilingly chided him for being 'the only member of the police force who didn't vote for woman suffrage.'"

"'Your honor,' cried Mr. Sullivan, 'I don't think this should be permitted, even in fun.'

'''You didn't vote for suffrage yourself,' shot back Attorney Davis.

"'No, I didn't vote for suffrage, and I make no bones about it,' retorted Sullivan warmly. And later in his argument, he said, 'I don't know whether lady jurors are going to be a success. Judging from remarks in the courtroom and soft applause to the sentimental pleas of the attorneys for the defense, I fear for where it is a question of convicting women by women, but you must lay aside your sympathy and find according to the law and your oath.'"

The lawyers had other "hot exchanges." "Once, after the arguments were finished, one of the jurors complained of being cold. Attorney Davis hastened to the jury box and closed a window. Sullivan objected to "'these little attentions' and told the judge 'I would rather have this done by some anti-suffragist.'

"'Huh, you'd let them freeze to death yourself,' snorted back Mr. Davis."

Women spectators at the trial "who had taken every chair and standing place in the municipal courtroom" weighed in on a case before the judge that preceded the one with the woman jury. They "showed their contempt for a man who had turned informer against a woman of the underworld." Judge Tazwell "dismissed the charge against Pauline Bernard, the woman, on the plea of her attorney, A. W. Parshley, on the ground that the man was equally guilty with her, but had not been prosecuted" and "the audience of women broke into a demonstration" of support for the verdict.

This demonstration, the women who participated in it while in the spectator seats waiting for the next trial, and the ten women on the subsequent jury posed a threat to the established gendered order of things. "Judge Tazwell had to call sternly for order, and only quieted the applause when he said that the courtroom was unsafe."

The fears of the collapsing floor, as we've seen reported in this series, served as a metaphor for fears of women out of bounds and a change in the gendered order. "The courtroom was unsafe" -- but for whom?

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