The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Ethics
This post is the second in a series this month that honors the anniversary of the famous Scopes Trial, held in Tennessee from July 10–21, 1925, and highlights a set of rare and newly digitized photographs, from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, of witnesses at the trial collections, which have been added to the Smithsonian Flickr Commons.
In tone, composition, and setting, the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ portrait photographs of scientific witnesses at the Scopes trial typify the kind of images the syndicated science news service, Science Service, gathered for its files. Some are formal studio portraits, supplied to the news organization by employers. Others show scientists posed in their laboratories or offices, with symbolic props like books, maps, and microscopes. A third group comprises snapshots of people or events, usually taken by Watson Davis or another staff member.
But because Davis and fellow journalist Frank Thone boarded at the defense team’s lodgings, dubbed "Defense Mansion," they could also easily snap less formal photographs of the visiting experts. Thone, for example, posed his subjects in front of nearby woods. With arms crossed or sleeves rolled up, the men look defiant and eager for the evolutionary battle.
The University of Chicago (Thone's alma mater) was well-represented at Dayton. Charles Hubbard Judd (1873-1946), head of the university's department of education since 1909 and its department of psychology since 1920, had become known for applying experimental psychology to classroom instruction techniques.
Alabama native Horatio Hackett Newman (1875-1957) received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1905 and had been a professor of zoology there since 1917. Newman, too, engaged in cross-disciplinary analysis, later collaborating in psychological and genetic studies of identical and fraternal twins.
The third Chicago faculty member was anthropologist Fay-Cooper Cole (1881-1961). Camping at Defense Mansion during the summertime probably seemed easy for Cole since he had conducted ethnological research in such places as Borneo, Java, and Sumatra. In 1925, he had just been appointed associate professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he later established and chaired the anthropology department.
Perhaps the most accomplished participant was agronomist Jacob Goodale Lipman (1874-1939), dean and director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University. Despite the demands of extensive administrative responsibilities and research, he had told the defense team that he only needed to know "whether you need me and when."
Winterton Conway Curtis (1875-1969), professor of zoology at the University of Missouri, had earned a PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1901. Participation in the Scopes trial remained such a point of pride that Curtis included "Expert witness, Scopes trial, Dayton, Tenn., 1925" in his Who's Who biography.
Two experts had connections to the University of Virginia. Biology professor William Allison Kepner (1875-1971) was teaching in the summer session but willingly rearranged his classes to make himself available. Geologist Wilbur Armistead Nelson (1889-1969) was scheduled to join the Virginia faculty and become State Geologist of Virginia on September 1, 1925. Nelson had been State Geologist of Tennessee since 1918, was past president of the Tennessee Academy of Sciences, and was locally known as president of the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly, an interdenominational Chautauqua and summer resort established in the 1880s on the Cumberland Plateau above Dayton.
William Marion Goldsmith (1888-1955) taught biology at a Methodist institution, Southwestern College, in Kansas. Soon after joining the faculty in 1920, he had begun an attempt to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Bible. His 1924 book Evolution and Christianity resulted in an unsuccessful attempt at academic censure, and shortly thereafter Goldsmith moved to the University of Wichita.
One of the last to arrive was Harvard University geologist Kirtley Fletcher Mather (1888-1978), who possessed a useful combination of scientific credentials, experience, and religious affiliation. Mather had earned a PhD at the University of Chicago and could testify knowledgeably about Tennessee geology because he had conducted research there. In addition, he was active in the Baptist church.
The scientists' willingness to make the arduous journey reflected their commitment to repelling assaults on the teaching of evolution. Curtis' train journey from Missouri to Tennessee, took from noon on one day until 6 p.m. the next. Mather had begun his train trip to Dayton from Nova Scotia, Canada.
None of these men got a chance to stand up for science in the courtroom. On the trial's fifth day, July 16, the judge ruled that testimony from the defense experts "would shed no light" on the issues at hand, although their written statements could be read into the record. Only one scientist had been allowed to testify on the stand. It turns out that he was also the witness with a Smithsonian connection.
Stay tuned for more on the Smithsonian's connection to the Scopes Trial next week in this series’ third, and final, post.
This post is the first of three this month that honors the anniversary of the famous Scopes Trial, held in Tennessee from July 10-21, 1925. Written by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette, Smithsonian Archives Research Associate and author of “Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century" (2008), these posts highlight a set of rare and newly digitized photographs from the Smithsonian Institution Archives collections of witnesses at the trial , which have been added to the Smithsonian Flickr Commons.
"DISTINGUISHED COLLEAGUES OF YOURS HAVE SUGGESTED THAT YOU BE ASKED TO TESTIFY FOR DEFENSE AT ANTIEVOLUTION TRIAL HERE." Thus began dozens of telegrams sent from Dayton, Tennessee, on July 7, 1925, and signed "Clarence Darrow" and "Dudley Field Malone." "WE OF DEFENSE WOULD BE DELIGHTED TO ADD YOUR AUTHORITY TO OUR POSITION...CAN YOU COME AT ONCE WIRE ANSWER STATING TRAIN AND TIME OF ARRIVAL."
High school teacher John Thomas Scopes was about to be tried for teaching evolution, in violation of a new Tennessee state law. Because the controversial case had already attracted national attention and involved celebrated attorneys like Darrow and Malone, the defendent's supporters knew that having scientific experts on hand would be crucial to making as strong a case as possible for the right to teach evolution.
Among the many historical delights at the Smithsonian Institution Archives are numerous behind-the-scenes documents, notes, and photographs related to the Scopes trial. In June 1925, Watson Davis, a journalist for the syndicated news organization Science Service, well aware of the sensational trial’s news-worthiness and importance, interrupted a cross-country train trip to meet with Scopes and George Washington Rappleyea, manager of Dayton's Cumberland Coal & Iron Company and one of the local instigators of the upcoming trial. Upon his return to Washington, DC on July 6, and with the trial scheduled to begin in four days, Davis wired Rappleyea asking for a list of the defense experts. Rappleyea responded with the names of people, including some who, it turned out, had not agreed to appear (and were probably never asked). At that point, Davis and the Science Service staff scrambled to locate experts willing to appear as witnesses, adding or deleting names, and wiring suggestions to Rappleyea, who then telegraphed invitations to them from Dayton. Was this a breach of journalistic neutrality? Yes, but the codes of ethics that exist today were less formal back then. Science Service employees were both protective of science and scientists, and pulled by the newspaper publishers among their trustees to adhere to journalism standards.
Some invitees were out of the country or vacationing in remote places. Some were reluctant to interrupt research projects or summer classes or to be associated with a sensational trial. University of Chicago geologist Rollin T. Chamberlin had an excellent excuse. "CONDITIONALLY WOULD BE GLAD TO TESTIFY," Chamberlin replied on July 8; "HAVE JUST RETURNED FROM HOSPITAL AFTER OPERATION FOR APPENDICITIS COULD NOT COME JUST NOW BUT EXPECT TO BE READY IN A FEW DAYS." Even then, he felt so strongly about the Scopes case that he wired the next day: "WILL COME IF YOU THINK IT NECESSARY."
During the week of July 13, an impressive group of experts made their way to Dayton: Anthropologist Fay-Cooper Cole (1881-1961); zoologist Winterton Conway Curtis (1875-1969); biologist William Marion Goldsmith (1888-1955); psychologist Charles Hubbard Judd (1873-1946); biologist William Allison Kepner (1875-1971); agronomist Jacob Goodale Lipman (1874-1939); geologist Kirtley Mather (1888-1978); zoologist Maynard Mayo Metcalf (1868-1940); geologist Wilbur Armistead Nelson (1889-1969); and zoologist Horatio Hackett Newman (1875-1957). Remarkably, the Archives’ Science Service collections contain photographs of them all, many taken by Davis or his Science Service colleague, Frank Thone, when they boarded, from July 10 to 22, in a mansion that had been set up to serve as the defense team's temporary quarters.
Originally built in 1884 as a residence for the coal and iron company's British owners and managers, the eighteen-room Victorian house was situated on a wooded estate on the outskirts of town. After company bankruptcies and failed reorganizations, the building had fallen into disrepair. (Local teenagers held Halloween parties there, setting candles on the marble mantelpieces and dancing to music from portable phonographs.) During the trial, the decaying, but still-imposing place was quickly dubbed "Defense Mansion," and its wide porches and fading elegance can be glimpsed in many of Davis’ photographs.
Rappleyea and his wife "Precious" had assembled rude accommodations, bringing in mattresses, camp beds, linens, and minimal furniture. Rappleyea, a civil engineer by training, also set up a temporary, erratic water supply, although on the night before the trial opened, there was still no electricity.
Despite such inconveniences, Defense Mansion proved to be a rollicking place. One visitor, minister Charles Francis Potter, described his stay as an adventure dominated by burst pipes and boiled water, interspersed with good conversation and practical jokes. As Frank Thone wrote from Dayton:
“All day long and far into the night the rumble of scientific discussion and laughter issues forth from Defense Mansion, that pleasant old house on the outskirts of Dayton that has become the headquarters for the defenders of science, religion, and freedom.” [Typescript written on or about July 15, 1925, RU7091, Box 365, Folder 3]
Check out the Archives Resources Mentioned Above:
- Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes Trial Photographs, Smithsonian Flickr Commons Set
- Finding Aid: Record Unit 7091 Science Service, Records, 1902-1965
- Blog Posts about the Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes Trial and Photos