Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Women and Jury Service in Oregon: Raising the Question in November 1912

Following the successful campaign for woman suffrage in Oregon in November 1912 supporters turned their attention to the many ways that women could exercise the rights of citizenship and fulfill their civic obligations. I have and will continue to blog about women and office holding, with emphasis on Esther Lovejoy's run for U.S. Congress in 1920, the Oregon Women's Legislative Council and other civic claims by women in the state in this period. And I'm also interested in unique and informative story of jury service for women in Oregon.

As the following newspaper reports from November 1912 reveal, jury service for women became a question even before the results of the election were tabulated.

On November 3, two days before the election, the Oregonian reported that "considerable opposition has developed to the suffrage amendment among voters who express themselves as being highly favorable to giving the women the ballot, but who are opposed to their being harassed with the onerous duties of the juror."

Oregon law defined jurors as "male" but the question was whether an amendment to the state constitution removing the word "male" from voting statues would also imply that women could be jurors. But some attorneys in Salem contended that a ballot victory for woman suffrage "would not automatically operate" to make women "subject to jury duty."

Attorney General Andrew Crawford could not make a definitive statement about the matter at the time. But he did tell the Oregonian that he had no doubt "but a law could be passed by the legislative assembly exempting women from jury duty and that such a law would be constitutional and not deny to all the equal protection of the laws."

The Attorney General was not sure, and the matter was "undecided," but the Oregonian ran the headline "Women Not to be Jurors."

"Women Not to be Jurors," Oregonian, November 3, 1912, 4:11.

On November 9, the Oregon Journal reported that "Woman May Vote But She Cannot Sit Upon a Jury," but gave no official statement by the Attorney General or anyone else about this assertion. The Journal used the authority of the existing statute that defined jurors as men.

"Woman May Vote But She Cannot Sit Upon a Jury," Oregon Journal, November 9, 1912, 1.

Medford, Oregon women were having none of it. Members of the Medford Equal Suffrage Association protested immediately. At a banquet celebrating the victory of the woman suffrage amendment members resolved: "'We protest against any curtailment of our rights . . . and maintain that if suffrage is granted this is an implied amendment to the constitution and wherever the word man is used woman is included.'"

"Jury Rights Demanded," Oregonian, November 10, 1912, 4.

This was just the beginning. Come back to read about the continuing story, including fears that the floor of the courtroom would collapse in Portland in early December because of the crowds attending a trial with an "experimental" all-woman jury.