90th Anniversary of the Scopes Trial

In 1925, 24-year-old high school teacher John Thomas Scopes was tried in Dayton, Tennessee, for teaching about evolution, in violation of a newly enacted state law.

During the first week of June 1925, 29-year-old Watson Davis, managing editor of Science Service, a Washington, D.C.-based science news organization, traveled to Dayton to meet Scopes. The journalist then returned the following month to report on the trial, which began on July 10.

On Monday, July 20, 1925, 19-year-old William Silverman, who had just graduated from high school in nearby Chattanooga, went to Dayton with one of his science teachers to observe the proceedings. Fortunately, like Davis, Silverman took along his camera.

This special slide show, weaving together the photographs of Davis and Silverman, is presented by the Smithsonian Institution Archives to mark the 90th anniversary of the Scopes Trial and to honor the work of two photographers who preserved these fascinating glimpses of people, places, and events.

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In May 1925, 24-year-old John Thomas Scopes was accused of teaching about evolution, in violation of a newly enacted state law. Science Service journalist Watson Davis traveled to Dayton, Tennessee, in June 1925 to meet the teacher. Photograph by Watson Davis, June 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2008-1121.

Rhea County High School, where John Thomas Scopes taught physics and served as the football and basketball coach. Photograph by Watson Davis, June 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2008-1123.

Part of the dormant facility of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company, Dayton, Tennessee. The company’s multiple bankruptcies had weakened the local economy. Photograph by Watson Davis, June 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2008-1140.

Main Street in downtown Dayton, Tennessee. Photograph by Watson Davis, June 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2008-1105.

Downtown Dayton, Tennessee. Visible at right is F.E. Robinson’s drugstore, the place where Dayton’s business leaders hatched the plot to hold a trial in order to bring tourists and good publicity to the town. Photograph by Watson Davis, June 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2008-1103.

F.E. (Frank Earle) Robinson (at right) owned the drugstore where local business leaders persuaded schoolteacher John Thomas Scopes to consent to be charged with violating state law by teaching about evolution. The sign on the tabletop reads: “AT THIS TABLE THE SCOPES EVOLUTION CASE WAS STARTED MAY 5, 1925.” In the days preceding and during the trial, Robinson, Scopes, and others frequently posed for photographs around the table. The two men at left are possibly Dayton attorneys Ben G. McKenzie and Herbert E. Hicks, who were part of the prosecution team. Photograph by William Silverman, July 20, 1925. Accession 10-042: William Silverman Photographs, 1925, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. 2009-21072.

Rhea County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee, where the trial of John Thomas Scopes was held between July 10 and July 21, 1925. Photograph by Watson Davis, June 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2008-1126.

Defense attorney Clarence Seward Darrow (center) confers with an unidentified man (at left) and with local attorney Gordon McKenzie (at right). The Rhea County Courthouse is visible in the background. On Friday, July 17, 1925, Judge John T. Raulston threatened to cite Darrow for contempt. In this photograph, taken on Monday, July 20, 1925, Darrow is holding a Chattanooga, Tennessee, newspaper describing the earlier confrontation, and he is probably about to enter the courthouse, where he would apologize before proceeding with the defense of John Thomas Scopes. Photograph by William Silverman, July 20, 1925. Accession 10-042: William Silverman Photographs, 1925, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. 2009-21078.

Political and religious leader William Jennings Bryan (the balding man visible standing at center of group in back) participated enthusiastically in prosecuting John Thomas Scopes for teaching evolution. The heat during the trial had become so oppressive in the courtroom that Bryan and many of the participants removed their coats. Judge John T. Raulston had allowed press photographers (see the camera at left) to set up their equipment inside the courtroom. Photograph by William Silverman, July 20, 1925. Accession 10-042: William Silverman Photographs, 1925, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. 2009-21073.

These seven scientists volunteered to travel to Dayton, Tennessee, to testify at the trial of John Thomas Scopes. They posed in front of “Defense Mansion,” a Victorian house where defense team and witnesses stayed during the trial. Back row, left to right: Horatio Hackett Newman, Maynard Mayo Metcalf, Fay-Cooper Cole, Jacob Goodale Lipman; Front row, left to right: Winterton Conway Curtis, Wilbur A. Nelson, William Marion Goldsmith. Photograph by Watson Davis, July 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2008-1146.

On the afternoon of July 20, 1925, Judge John T. Raulston declared that court would adjourn to where the temperature might be cooler and the spectators accommodated more safely. When proceedings resumed on a platform next to the courthouse, defense attorney Arthur Garfield Hays (standing on the platform in a white shirt) continued reading the defense experts’ sworn affidavits into the record. Visible on the courthouse wall is one of many “Read Your Bible” signs hung in Dayton throughout the trial. Attorney Dudley Field Malone can be seen sitting just behind Hays. Photograph by William Silverman, July 20, 1925. Accession 10-042: William Silverman Photographs, 1925, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. 2009-21079.

When Arthur Garfield Hays finished reading the scientists’ statements, attorney Clarence Seward Darrow asked that the “Read Your Bible” sign be removed. Hays then called William Jennings Bryan to the stand and Darrow (standing on the platform in the white shirt) began one of the most famous examinations in American jurisprudence. The defense team sits directly behind Darrow. Visible, from left, are: Dudley Field Malone, his arm on railing; Hays; and Scopes’s Tennessee attorney John R. Neal. Photograph by William Silverman, July 20, 1925. Accession 10-042: William Silverman Photographs, 1925, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. 2009-21077.

Science Service journalist Watson Davis observed the July 20, 1925, court session from behind the defense team and from a perspective opposite that of William Silverman. Note the same straw hat on a pole visible in the Silverman photographs and the court reporters seated at a table. William Jennings Bryan (seated at left) is being interrogated by Clarence Seward Darrow (standing). Defense lawyers for Scopes (John R. Neal, Arthur Garfield Hays, and Dudley Field Malone) are visible seated to the extreme right. One of the men at left, with his back to the photographer, appears to be Scopes. Photograph by Watson Davis, July 20, 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2007-0123.

Science Service journalist Watson Davis observed the July 20, 1925, court session from behind the defense team and from a perspective opposite that of William Silverman. Note the same straw hat on a pole visible in the Silverman photographs and the court reporters seated at a table. William Jennings Bryan (seated at left) is being interrogated by Clarence Seward Darrow (standing). Defense lawyers for Scopes (John R. Neal, Arthur Garfield Hays, and Dudley Field Malone) are visible seated to the extreme right. One of the men at left, with his back to the photographer, appears to be Scopes. Photograph by Watson Davis, July 20, 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2007-0124.

Science Service journalist Watson Davis observed the July 20, 1925, court session from behind the defense team and from a perspective opposite that of William Silverman. Note the same straw hat on a pole visible in the Silverman photographs and the court reporters seated at a table. William Jennings Bryan (seated at left) is being interrogated by Clarence Seward Darrow (standing). The court reporters are seated at the table. Defense lawyers for John T. Scopes (John R. Neal and Arthur Garfield Hays) are visible seated on the right. In this frame (number 4 in the sequence) Dudley Field Malone has leaned back in his seat. One of the men at left, with his back to the photographer, appears to be Scopes. Photograph by Watson Davis, July 20, 1925. Science Service Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives, image no. SIA2007-0125.

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