All-Woman Jury Trial in Olympia

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The issue of jury service for women was integral to the history of woman suffrage.  When Washington Women gained the right to vote during the Territorial period from 1883-1888, the issue of their jury services was at the heart of at least three judicial challenges, two of which resulted in women losing the right to vote.  After male voters ratified a constitutional amendment empowering women to vote on November 8, 1910, they again became legal jurors.

            This status was tested just a month after the election on December 13, 1910 in Olympia in the Justice Court of Milton Giles, who empaneled an all woman jury in the case of Koch v. Fouls & Canfield.  The case involved A. Koch who was a milkman against Fouls & Canfield who were contractors working on Olympia streets.  Koch claimed that a blast by the contractors working on Central Street caused his team of horses driven by Frank Fuchs to run away causing damage of $10.05.

Superior Court juries had to wait for women jurors since at the time the list for those jurors was drawn up from poll books and registrants on the first Monday in July and women had only gained the vote in November 1910.  In justice courts there was no set list and when the jury trial was demanded, as in this case, the judge made a list of 18 with the same qualifications as those in superior courts and attorneys each had the option of striking off six names on the list leaving six to try the case. (“Six Olympia Women Drawn for Jury,” Morning Olympian, December 10, 1910 pg 1 and 3.) 

All of the 18 jurors initially called were women—those struck off the list also included well-known suffragists.  Those originally called were Mrs. Mitchel Harris [nee Toba Lichtenstein], Mrs. George Taylor, Mrs. George Zern, Mrs. Charles Peters, Mrs. George (Georgiana) Blankenship, Mrs. Victor (Lena) Meyer, Mrs. T. D. (Kate) Young, Mrs. Charles (Carlotta) Van Eaton, Mrs. T. McLeay [Macleay?], Mrs. J. M. (Ida)  Hitt, Mrs. E. L. (Edith) Sylvester [nee Hall], and Mrs. Wm. (Laura)Nunn.  Although six women were called, one of them Mrs. Pauline Graves, was excused by a doctor’s note.  The remaining women on the jury were Ada Sprague Mowell, Sadie Bower Blakeslee, Rev. Genevra Lake, Bernice Sapp and Jean McLeod.

One of the issues which the county clerk wrestled with was the 1909 law which required that jurors must have lived in the county at least one year, be a qualified juror and a tax payer.  In the December case, then Clerk-elect D. G. Parker interpreted it that if a woman’s husband was a taxpayer—she was as well.  He must also have determined single working women were also taxpayers.  (“Clerk Is In Quandry Now,” Morning Olympian December 10, 1910 pg. 1) 

J.W. Wilson, the attorney for Canfield argued it was not because the jurors were women that he opposed their service but believed more legislative action was needed.  He wanted to examine the jurors for their qualifications but plaintiff’s attorney objected which was sustained by Judge Giles.

The women who were seated were well known in the community and some had been active in the suffrage movement—causing some newspapers to dub it an “All Suffragist Jury.”

courtesy

Chosen as foreman was Ada Sprague Mowell.  Mowell was a teacher who started her career at the age of 15, and was, at one time, principal of Lincoln school.  She later married Dr. John Mowell and became very active in the Woman’s Club of Olympia as well as serving in several other organizations.  During World War I she headed the women’s home front group in Thurston County known as the “Minute Women.” She died in 1953. Photograph courtesy Washington State Historical Society, WSHS C1950.1117.1.23.4

 Bernice Sapp had been a leading suffragist and at the time of the trial was a stenographer for the Washington State Supreme Court.  She had headed the efforts for the “Poll List Canvas” project during the 1910 suffrage amendment ratification effort and was a prominent member of the Olympia Suffrage Club, an officer in the Washington Equal Suffrage Association, and participated in the “Poster Brigade” during the campaign.   This was an effort to place posters advocating for suffrage prominently in towns and cities across the state.   Later in her life she became a leading historian of Thurston County and for many years was a clerk for the Supreme Court Reporter.  She died in 1965. Photograph courtesy Washington State Historical Society, WSHS C1961.18.29

 

Jean McLeod (shown here with other staffers at the Legislature, including Bernice Sapp) at the time of her jury service was a stenographer in Governor Hay’s Office and was an officer in the Business Woman’s Equal Suffrage Booster Club.  McLeod had also served in the Governor’s office for Governors Albert Mead and Samuel Cosgrove as well as secretary to State Land Commissioner Clark V. Savage.  Besides her secretarial skills she was also an author and wrote under the nom de plume “Jean Joggles.” She later married Earl Holloway and continued her work for the state with the State Division of Banking for 29 years.  She died in 1966. Photograph courtesy Washington State Historical Society, C2013.18.39

 

Sadie Bower Blakeslee was the wife of local businessman Frank G. Blakeslee and a member of the Woman’s Club of Olympia and active socially.  She died in 1946.

Reverend Genevra (Mrs. H. S.) Lake was originally from New York and become well-known as a spiritualist, poet and lecturer.  She became the official pastor of the Boston First Spiritualist Temple in the 1880s. 

By 1898, Lake had become a vegetarian and advertised that she was establishing a vegetarian commune in Olympia, Washington and started an independent church there. 

She was associated with the Populist and Socialist movements.  Lake was a national advocate for suffrage and continued her suffrage advocacy in Washington.  She also used her rhetorical skills for the cause leading up to the ratification vote in 1910 in a debate in Olympia on the women’s suffrage.  She died in Olympia in 1921. Photograph courtesy First Spiritual Temple. 

The women were sworn in by then County Clerk William Nunn and a contemporary newspaper article reported that “at one time or another” during the proceedings every attorney in town was present at the trial which made nation-wide headlines.

J.W. Wilson, later a Superior Court Judge in Thurston County, was the attorney for Canfield and objected to women on the jury saying he did not believe the jury was legal and wanted to examine them.

The attorneys for the plaintiff were Gordon Mackay, H. L. Parr and Fred M. Whitman who demanded a jury trial.  They were also joined by E. C. Collier.  To Parr, the Morning Olympian of December 14, 1910, said, “fell the honor of making the first argument to be made to a woman jury to be drawn in the state since women were permitted to vote.”

 Wilson claimed the drawing of women to be illegal and refused to strike so the judge acted for him in striking off the six names. Wilson said he would ask the superior court for a writ of certiori as soon as the judgment was entered in the case, since he believed women were not qualified. 

The question was whether or not women by gaining the vote qualified as jurors or whether further legislative action was needed where voting laws stated that “men” were jurors.

Newspapers said that Justice Giles, “backed by several of the most prominent attorneys in the city” believed women were qualified.   

The Tacoma Daily Ledger December 14, 1910 said the women gave excuses not to serve and said they made their decision “without removing their hats.”  The article said that the court was crowded with onlookers who frequented laughed at the proceedings.

The article also said that, “According to attorneys here, this is the first time in Washington, if not the United States, that a female jury drawn from a venire of women only, has been selected to try a case.  Judge Giles of the justice court who presides declares that the jury of women is far superior in every way to any jury that every sat in his court.”

The trial lasted for about eight hours, but after deliberating an hour, the women returned a verdict in favor of Koch for $10.05 in damages.  The jury received wide-spread media attention at the time and it was part of the changes brought about by the enactment of women’s right to vote in Washington in 1910.

The 1911 Washington State Legislature specified that all electors, including women, would be eligible jurors—finally settling the issue that precipitated the court cases overturning women’s suffrage in the 1880s. Washington became the first state in the union to legislate authorization for women to serve as jurors. The statute did allow a sex-based exemption, however, since women could opt out of jury duty without cause. This exemption was removed by state law in 1967, and the current law (RCW 2.36.080) outlines state policy on selection of jurors and exclusion on account of membership in a protected class or economic status.

Sources:

“All Suffragist Jury Drawn in Justice Giles Court—First in State,” Olympia Daily Recorder, December 9, 1910, pg. 1

“’Best Jury Ever” Says Justice Giles of First Woman Jury,” Olympia Daily Recorder, December 14, 1910, pg. 1

“Biographical Sketch of Sara Genevra Chafa Lake,” in Militant Suffragists Database accessed at: https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1010113896

“Biographical Sketch of Bernice Althea Sapp,” in Militant Suffragists Database accessed at: https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/d/1010113904\

Caplan, Aaron, “The History of Women’s Jury Service in Washington,” Washington State Bar News, March 2005, 12-21.)

Clerk is in Quandry Now,” Morning Olympian, December 12, 1910, pg. 1.

Crooks, Jennifer, “Doing Her Share:  Ada Sprague Mowell, Community Activist in the Early Twentieth Century,” accessed at: https://www.thurstontalk.com/2014/09/25/share-ada-sprague-mowell-community-activist-early-twentieth-century/

“Crowds See All-Woman Jury Sworn,” Olympia Daily Recorder, December 13, 1910, pg. 1.

“Estate Settled Up of Quaint Character Former Suffrage Worker,” [Rev. Genevra Lake], Olympia Daily Recorder, December 23, 1921, pg. 8.

“Five Women Sit on Olympia Jury,” Tacoma Daily Ledger, December 14, 1910, pg. 14.

“Jean Joggles” is Wed at Tacoma,”  Bellingham Herald, December 31, 1914, pg. 4.

“Millinery Displays Bob Into Jury Box,” Seattle Daily Times, December 14, 1910, pg. 17.

Obituary for Ada Sprague Mowell, Daily Olympian, January 7, 1953, pg.14.

Obituary for Bernice A. Sapp, Daily Olympian, October 25, 1965, pg. 3.

Obituary for Harry L. Parr, Daily Olympian, April 25, 1962, pg. 1

Obituary for Jean McLeod Holloway, Daily Olympian, January 30, 1966, pg. 11.

Obituary for Judge Milton Giles, Morning Olympian, March 16, 1919, pg. 1.

Obituary for Sarah (Sadie) Bower Blakeslee, Daily Olympian, June 17, 1946, pg.6.

“Proud of Jury Duty,” Tacoma Daily Ledger, January 8, 1911, pg. 20.

“Six Women Drawn for Jury Duty,” Morning Olympian, December 10, 1910, p.1-3.

Stevenson, Shanna, Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices:  The Campaign for Equal Rights in Washington, Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma: 2009.

See also: Unpublished Chronology of Rev. Genevra (Mrs. H. S. Lake)  Prepared by Dr. Albert Von Frank

“Woman Jury Has Awful Time,” Morning Olympian, December 14, 1910, pg. 1

“Women Seek to Get Off Jury,” Olympia Daily Recorder, December 12, 1910, pg. 1.

 

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