The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Scopes Trial
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."
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.
In July 1925, two photographers were among the crowds of people (including, of course, many other photographers) who descended upon Dayton, Tennessee, to witness the "Trial of the Century." Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes was a test trial to overturn the newly-passed state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in schools. Watson Davis, managing editor for Science Service, was a professional journalist covering the trial; William Silverman was a Georgia Tech student on summer break who traveled to Dayton with his former high school teacher as more casual observers of the activities that summer.
The pictures these two men took are part of the Smithsonian Archives collections and among the highlights I often pull out to show to visitors and Smithsonian staff who tour our facility. Since the Davis photos were discovered in 2005, and the Silverman images were donated in 2009, we have become familiar with the faces of a number of the trial participants and visitors who are depicted in them. These Scopes trial images, all in the Flickr Commons, offer a unique look into 1925 Dayton, and into a pivotal and interesting moment in American history.
While most of the people and places in these photos have been identified and described, others remain mysterious figures. We have playfully given names and back-stories to some of them. Take the woman above, smiling for the camera. Was she a Dayton resident? The wife of one of the scientists who planned to testify for the defense? We've dubbed her "Twiggy," but would love to know her story (and her real name). Then there's the man mugging for William Silverman's camera. Who could he be? And why is he wearing a heavy coat in the Tennessee summer’s heat?
Who is the sweet young woman leaning against a bike rack in the above image? Was she there with Silverman that day? Who are the men talking with Clarence Darrow, standing in the street? Their faces are obscured, but there are smiles on the faces we can see, and Darrow has a somewhat whimsical look on his face. Was Darrow relating a humorous anecdote? Did he just make a sardonic comment? And who was William Silverman's teacher, anyway?
This month, on the 86th anniversary of the trial, we are calling on you to help us identify these mystery characters who play a role in the pictorial history of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes. We’ve tagged the photos that have unidentified individuals in them as “Unidentified-Scopes” in our Flickr Commons set, and would love for you to jump in. Our imagined back-stories are fun, but when describing our collections our goal is always accuracy. Search away, and let us know what you find by leaving a comment on the Flickr Commons!
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