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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Portland's "Experimental" Woman Jury, Part III: Abigail Scott Duniway Subpoenaed . . . for Jury Duty . . . and it's Optional . . . and Dangerous?

On December 2, 1912 the Portland Evening Telegram reported a new development in the building drama about the all-female "experimental" jury being formed: Judge George Tazwell decided to subpoena aging and controversial suffrage activist Abigail Scott Duniway for the jury panel.

"Mrs. Duniway Called to Serve Upon Jury," Portland Evening Telegram, December 2, 1912, 1

The Telegram reported Tazwell announced "that it would be no more than fitting to have her a member of the first woman jury." But the ill and aging activist was in "feeble health" and "if Mrs. Duniway feels equal to the occasion she will have to attend but if her health is such as to prohibit her appearance reply to the subpoena will not be insisted upon." As we'll see, this would later become an "honorary subpoena."

Given Duniway's contentious role in the suffrage campaign just completed in November 1912 and her desire for the limelight, it's interesting to note that Viola Coe, not Duniway, was the first woman to be called for this experiment. Duniway is not mentioned in the first list of women drawn. It would appear that Duniway or her supporters contacted the court or made a request that she be included to honor her work in suffrage and to signal the links between suffrage and jury service.

The Telegram article is also interesting because it reflects the growing interest in the trial among women who volunteered to serve. "Numerous applications have been received by Clerk Beutgen from women in all parts of the city who have volunteered their services, and several were quite insistent that they should be selected." Perhaps Duniway was among them?

"Much interest is being displayed in the case," the Telegram reported, "and a packed courtroom is expected. Special precautions will be taken by the police to check any demonstration, and several patrolmen will be assigned to special baliff duty." It's not clear whether the reporter believed that the women were going to demonstrate and be a dangerous threat or whether the danger came from others who felt threatened by women jurors.

More on the continuing developments in this "experiment" that was creating such a stir -- and causing anxious officials to take "special precautions."