Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Should women serve on juries?" (1918).

After women in New York obtained the vote in 1917, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a January 1918 article discussing the question of whether women should serve on juries as part of their civic duty. Some interesting quotes from the piece:
"in many things women could render a verdict more logical and more consistent than that of men."—Harry E. Lewis, district attorney, Kings County (NY); later presiding justice, New York State Supreme Court

"there are many cases where the intuition and experience of a woman would lead to the rendering of a better verdict than is sometimes rendered under the present system"—Russell Benedict, justice, New York State Supreme Court
Helen P. McCormick
(later married Patrick Toole,
but kept her maiden name)
"with votes for women goes jury duty for women"—Alice Hill Chittenden, former president, New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage

"There has been the point raised, I know, as to whether women can stand the nervous tension. Personally I think it rather absurd..."—Helen P. McCormick, asst district attorney, Brooklyn; first female asst district attorney in any U.S. city

Despite such votes of confidence and the presence of women on juries in other states, there was a long struggle before New York women could take their place in the jury box. McCormick was still refuting the notion that women were "too sentimental" to serve on juries in 1934, when a bill was in the legislature to drop "male" from the phrase "male citizen" (as a qualification for jury service) and permit women to qualify as jurors on the basis of their spouse's property. A form of the bill was passed in 1937 and took effect on September 1, although women could claim an exemption on the basis of gender. The first female New York juror was Reba Moss, sworn in for a grand larceny trial on October 5, 1937. The first women jurors for a New York murder trial were chosen on October 15, 1937—four were selected. By December, the New York Times was reporting that few women had availed themselves of the gender exemption and that 3,000 had served as jurors in New York County.

Those interested in the "CSI effect" (the influence of forensic TV shows on juror deliberations) may find pertinent the objections raised to "jury schools" conducted to help prepare women for jury service. The first one, in New Jersey, was discontinued in December 1937 when lawyers asserted that attendees of the school were acting, according to the New York Times, "more like judges than jurors."

Posts on similar topics:
Photos and cartoons pertaining to female jurors
Artist Charles Dana Gibson on woman jurors

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