The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
New Identification of Scopes Trial Photos—Thanks to You!
A few weeks ago, during the anniversary of the famous “Scopes Monkey” Trial of 1925, we asked you to help us identify some photographs in our Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes set on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons.
Some were skeptical that we’d get any new information. For example, in an article over at the Times Free Press of Chattanooga, TN, Tom Davis, a former director of the yearly Scopes Trial Festival, said: “I think it’s a great idea. It’s one of these things that, who knows? Maybe somebody’s grandson or granddaughter would recognize them…But 80 some years after the fact, you’re really at a dead end otherwise.”
Well, wouldn’t you know, that is exactly what happened! We’ve often admired this beautiful young lady in the Scopes set, but no one knew who she was. Within days of putting the call out for the public’s help in crowdsourcing the identification of images, we heard from this woman’s daughter and granddaughter, who let us know that she was Andrewena Robinson Davis. Ms. Davis was the daughter of F. E. (Frank Earle) Robinson, a member of the Rhea County Board of Education. It was in Mr. Robinson’s drugstore where local business leaders persuaded schoolteacher John Thomas Scopes to consent to be charged with violating state law by teaching about evolution.
In addition, Mr. Robinson’s granddaughter, Ann Gabbert Bates, let us know that her grandfather—who’d we’d mistakenly identified as Fred E. Robinson, in a caption on the Flickr Commons—was in fact named F. E. (Frank Earle) Robinson. F.E. Robinson, known as “the Hustling Druggist” during the trial, was known primarily by his initials. Fred Robinson was the owner of Robinson Manufacturing Company located in Dayton, Tennessee. The Archives staff knew that F.E. Robinson was Frank and not Fred, but had simply written the caption incorrectly. But what a difference our misspelling made! As any researcher knows, a misspelling can drastically change the course of one’s research. And as Marcel Chotowski LaFollette, the historian and discoverer of many of our Scopes Trial photos at the Archives, noted, when you search online for the phrase fred robinson scopes, there are plenty of legitimate sources that misspell Frank Earle Robinson’s name. Marcel questioned, “So how long will the wrong name remain misused now that things float electronically through time for so long?” For us, it’s a reminder of, as Marcel puts it, “the importance of getting it right in a digital age.”
In other words, a huge thank you goes out to Ms. Bates and her daughter for helping us identify and rectify our records at the Archives! We’re thrilled to know, as has been proven many times when we’ve asked for your help, that crowdsourcing our questions through social media is an excellent way for us to learn more about our collections.
And for any of the rest of you, hungry to solve more photo mysteries, check out the remaining unidentified photographs in the Scopes Trial set, and let us know if you have any insights!