The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Scopes Trial
*In July of 1925, the infamous "Scopes Monkey" trial occurred in Tennesee. See more of our photos of the trial, which debated the legaility of teaching evolution in public schools, on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons.
Eighty-six years have passed since John Scopes was put on trial in Dayton, Tennessee, for violating the statewide ban on teaching the theory of evolution. But a few weeks ago we heard the voice of someone who witnessed the outdoor trial proceedings on July 20, 1925. This was not a recording or an actor reading from a transcript of an oral history. It was the witness, HERSELF!
Back in July, we asked the public if they could help us identify some of the people depicted in photos in our collection of the Scopes trial. So, we were delighted when we were contacted by Martha Seeley recently. Martha Seeley, 94 (nee Cunnyngham – yes, with a “Y”), was eight years old when her hometown, Dayton, Tennessee, was transformed from a quiet southern town into the stage for the “Trial of the Century”; pitting two legal giants (Clarence Darrow—defense and William Jennings Bryan—prosecution) against one another. Initially, Martha wrote to the Archives in response to an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press for help in identifying images from the trial in our collection (Science Service Records, Record Unit 7091), she helped note a misidentification on one (this photo on the Flickr Commons and pictured to the right, is actually Gordon McKenzie on right, not Arthur Garfield Hays), but there was more.
Her letter went on to recount how she’d been told by her mother not to leave the house because of all the strangers in town. And how her father snuck her out and she sat atop his shoulders, on the north lawn outside the courthouse, and listened to Darrow and Bryan spar on the platform. He instructed her, to “pay real close attention because you are witnessing history.” And she must have, because the account she wrote to the Archives leapt off the page.
She also enclosed a picture, taken by her sister Melrose, of herself in July of 1925 standing with her sister’s boyfriend (Steve), a telegrapher who was in town to help with the extra workload. By the way, Steve gave her a pack of gum, which she was not allowed to have, so it’s hidden behind her back (check out her right hand).
The letter and picture absolutely made our week and we really wanted to call her and express our thanks and ask for permission to write about her, but we weren’t sure she’d want to hear from us. We needn’t have worried. Thank you, Martha for including your contact information because, as you the reader may have guessed, there was more.
Over the phone, Martha continued to tell us how her mother, because of a family connection, took a “dim view” of the trial and called it a “publicity stunt”, while on the other hand, her father counseled Scopes, who was initially reluctant to participate in the test trial. She doesn’t know if her mother ever found out that her father snuck her out to witness the trial.
Just when we thought the story ended, our Research Associate, Marcel LaFollette, told us that there is a scrapbook at the National Museum of American History, compiled by Scopes’ wife, Mildred Walker Scopes in the 1960s and donated in 2008. In it are letters from Martha’s brothers, Ross and Phillip “Punk,” who played football for Scopes. Each wrote Scopes after the publication of his autobiography in 1967. “Punk” Cunnyngham wrote on April 8, 1967, “As a kid running around the court house yard with Carmack Waterhouse we tried to keep up with the WGN [Chicago radio] announcer Quin Ryan. We were fascinated by this new medium that had invaded our city. I actually felt for Mr. Bryan when Darrow began to pick him to pieces during the out-door session. Boy that Darrow was smart.” Ross Cunnyngham also recounted memories of the trial and gave updates on people Scopes would have known. He closes his March 29, 1967, letter with, “I saw you on the TODAY show from N.Y. You did well and wished you could have stayed the entire show.”
In the end, after all that, we sat back a little dazed and thought . . . without snail mail and the telephone we would never have heard Martha’s story—can’t tweet that. Connecting through letters (both Martha’s and her brothers’) and hearing voices (on the page and in the flesh) is a VERY good thing, indeed.
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!
This post is the third in a series this month that honor the anniversary of the famous Scopes Trial held in Tennessee from July 10–21, 1925. We're highlighting 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.
On Wednesday afternoon, July 15, 1925, after two Rhea County High School students were grilled in court about what John Thomas Scopes had (or had not) taught them about evolution, the prosecution rested. Attorney Clarence Darrow began the case for the defense.
His first witness, middle-aged invertebrate zoologist Maynard Mayo Metcalf (1868-1940), took the stand. Metcalf explained that, in addition to his extensive scientific credentials and publications, he was an active member of the Congregationalist church, and had taught a Bible class for about three years. The scientist responded to Darrow's questioning for under an hour, carefully and conscientiously distinguishing "between the facts of evolution and the numerous theories of how evolution came about." He was a good choice for opening witness—measured, calm, and precise.
A native of Ohio, Metcalf had earned graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Oberlin College, and had been teaching for several years in the Oberlin zoology department. In 1925, he was chairman of the National Research Council's division of biology and agriculture and about to become a professor at Johns Hopkins. That spring, he also received an honorary research appointment at the Smithsonian Institution.
Metcalf's connection to the Smithsonian had begun around 1915, when he corresponded with Leonard Stejneger, senior biology curator at the US National Museum (today’s National Museum of Natural History). Metcalf’s research involved examining intestinal commensal parasites (Opalinidae) in preserved specimens, such as found in the Smithsonian collections, as a way to study the geographical distribution and evolution of frogs. In summer 1924, about to transition from Oberlin to Johns Hopkins, Metcalf asked if he might have a desk in the museum to work on the collections. Metcalf also signaled his intention to donate hundreds of specimens obtained from India and the Philippines. In March 1925, Charles Doolittle Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian, offered Metcalf an honorary appointment as a collaborator in the Division of Marine Invertebrates. As curator Waldo LaSalle Schmidt explained, Metcalf was not only doing good work but might also obtain specimens for the museum during a forthcoming research trip to Brazil.
When discussing their work with colleagues, scientists often reveal a sense of play. Metcalf, for example, frequently described the "fun" he was having whenever research investigations opened "along unforeseen lines." He also acknowledged that good science required diligence and patience. "It is hard to put anything new across, and is especially hard in a field involving such...controverted hypotheses as those postulating former land connections," he wrote to Smithsonian Secretary Charles Greeley Abbot in May 1934.
In his scientific correspondence, Metcalf also mentioned an unexpected obsession, one that might seem at odds with his scientific productivity and his pensive, almost melancholic face and yet which, upon reflection, requires traits similar to those found in the best researchers.
In 1920, Metcalf explained to Stejneger that one paper would be "about ready to send you now, but when I first reached home I found my appetite for work below par and so gave a month to laziness and golf" (November 17, 1920). A few months later, he wrote that when that same manuscript "is finally off my hands I hope to celebrate by a couple weeks of golf, the pleasantest form of dissipation I know" (February 15, 1921).
Metcalf also worked with Smithsonian herpetologist Doris Mable Cochran. Years later, Cochran described Metcalf as "a large, quiet man with mild, bluish eyes and a gentle voice," who already "ran to girth" when she first met him in the 1920s. And, she added, he "was very fond of golf," and "sometimes came to my office in the thick hose and baggy knee-length trousers that were then the style on the greens." (undated notes in Record Unit 7151, Box 7, Folder 17)
Metcalf's calmness and precision were of little avail in the Scopes trial, where hot tempers and antediluvian ideologies raged. Such traits, however, probably served him well on the tees and greens, where the contests between player and course defy ideology and offer "the pleasantest form of dissipation."
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