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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?

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!).

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 . .

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