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Monday, July 18, 2011

Portland's "Experimental" Woman Jury -- Editorial Reviews: The Oregonian -- "Don't Depend Too Much On Their Being Fools"

All three of Portland's major daily newspapers provided extensive coverage of the first all-female jury on December 4, 1912 just weeks after the achievement of woman suffrage. And all three weighed in with editorial commentary after the fact.

Today -- the Oregonian. This Republican-supporting morning paper had been editorially opposed to woman suffrage until the death of editor Harvey Scott (brother of Abigail Scott Duniway) in 1910. The paper's editorial views about lessons learned in "The First Woman Jury" might best be characterized as damning with faint praise and halfhearted

The first lesson for the Oregonian editors was that women would not automatically support a lawyer because he had supported the votes for women campaign. As we've seen, W.M. Pike Davis was one of the defense attorneys at the trial and he used his suffrage credentials in his argument. The Oregonian got back at him in the editorial.

"The account of the various antics performed to beguile and bemuddle the first woman jury makes at least one thing perfectly clear," they wrote. Women jurors cannot be depended on to give their verdict to a lawyer because he worked for suffrage. They may give it to him for his good looks or his elegant manners or his dulcet voice. That remains to be seen. But lawyers who have hoped to win all of their cases for the next year or two by pleading that they made stump speeches for suffrage are clearly doomed to woeful disappointment."

The second lesson -- some women might eventually make good jurors but they are easily distracted. The women jurors "gave some attention to the evidence and the judge's instructions though perhaps did their job as jurors. "We are persuaded that the women gave some attention to the evidence and the judge's instructions, though perhaps not very much." The editors acknowledged that this was a very public trial with a media following and this "must naturally have diverted their minds" from the task at hand.

"It is only by experience," they continued, "that some women can be taught that an oath is a little more serious than a new ribbon and that to be chosen foreman of a jury is not quite the same sort of distinction as to take a prize at bridge whist." The editors acknowledged "these lessons will be learned in time. Some men need them quite as much as any women."

And the third argument was that "it is unsafe to treat women like simpletons" (though to this reader's eyes the Oregonian had done just that) "even in the most novel situations." The editors warned "politicians seeking women's vote not to depend too much on their being fools. The sex has belated specimens, no doubt, whose vanity is more conspicuous than their common sense, but their very prominence proves their rarity." In the final analysis, to the Oregonian editors, "with women as with men, the appeal that wins in the long run must not be too superficial or utterly silly."

"The First Woman Jury," Oregonian, December 6, 1912, 12.