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The Monkey Trial Begins

1925: John Scopes, an unassuming high school biology teacher and part-time football coach, is found guilty of teaching evolution in schools, in violation of Tennessee law

The Scopes Trial commonly referred to as the Scopes Evolution Trial or the Scopes Monkey trial, began on July 10th, 1925. The defendant, John Thomas Scopes, was a high school coach and substitute teacher who had been charged with violating the Butler Act by teaching the theory of evolution in his classes. The Butler Act forbids the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical story of Creationism. By teaching that man had descended from apes, the theory of evolution, Scopes was charged with breaking the law.

The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in the defense, and the stage was set for one of the most famous trials in U.S. history.

Rarely has the American psyche been so at odds with itself as in the early 1920s. In the cities, Americans were dancing to the opening bars of the Jazz Age, debating Sigmund Freud’s theories and swigging bootleg liquor in defiance of Prohibition. In the rural heartland, particularly in the South, believers in old fashioned values were caught up in a wave of religious revivalism. Preachers damned modern scientific rationalism in all its guises and upheld a strict and literal interpretation of the Bible as the only source of truth. A showdown between modernists and traditionalists to decide which would dominate American culture seemed inevitable. Both sides itched for a decisive battle.

Fundamentalists were particularly galled by the gains modernism had made in public schools, where the teaching of Charles Darwin‘s theory of evolution by natural selection had supplanted the Biblical story of creation. To them, it seemed their tax dollars were being spent to turn their own children against—even to scoff at—the religion of their parents. Led by William Jennings Bryan, the thrice defeated presidential candidate of populism, the Fundamentalists tried to drive the Darwinian “heresy” out of the schools by legislative fiat.

In Tennessee a bill sponsored by John Washington Butler was enacted in February 1925, declaring it unlawful for a teacher in any school supported by state funds “to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Fearful that if the Tennessee law went unchallenged other states would soon pass similar bills, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately announced it would defend any teacher charged with violating the Butler Act.

A few weeks later, in the little town of Dayton, a transplanted New Yorker with Darwinian views got into a debate at the local drugstore soda fountain with two Fundamentalist lawyers. However much they fought over evolution and whether mankind and monkeys were close relatives, they quickly agreed that a trial to test the law would do wonders for Dayton’s commerce. The 24-year-old science teacher of the local high school, John Thomas Scopes, was recruited that very afternoon to be the legal guinea pig. Just as quickly, the ACLU confirmed it was prepared to defend Scopes.

Using a state-approved textbook, Scopes taught a lesson on evolutionary theory on April 24 to his Rhea County High School science class. Arrested on May 7, Scopes was quickly indicted by the grand jury, setting the stage for what newspaper headline writers were already calling the “Monkey Trial.”

Photograph of John Scopes taken one month (June 1925) before the Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial. John Scopes was a football coach and substitute teacher at a high school in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, but in 1925 he quickly became wrapped up in one of the most publicized controversies the United States had ever seen. From the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

F.E. Robinson’s Drugstore, June 1925. Robinson, who was president of the local school board, advertised himself as “The Hustling Druggist.”

The trial was the result of a carefully orchestrated series of events that were intended to bring publicity, and therefore money, into the town by a group of local businessmen. In reality, Scopes was unsure of whether he had ever technically taught the theory of evolution, but he had reviewed the chapter in the evolution chapter in the textbook with students, and he agreed to incriminate himself so that the Butler Act could be challenged by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Several students were encouraged to testify against Scopes at the trial.

Travellers wandering through Dayton, Tennessee, in mid-July 1925 might have been excused for thinking that the tiny hill town was holding a carnival or perhaps a religious revival. The street leading to the local courthouse was busy with vendors peddling sandwiches, watermelon, calico, and books on biology. Evangelists had erected an open-air tabernacle, and nearby buildings were covered with posters exhorting people to ‘read your Bible’ and avoid eternal damnation.

If there was a consistent theme to the garish exhibits and most of the gossip in Dayton it was, of all things, monkeys. Monkey jokes were faddish. Monkey toys and souvenirs were ubiquitous. A soda fountain advertised something called a ‘monkey fizz,’ and the town’s butcher shop featured a sign reading, ‘We handle all kinds of meat except monkey.’

As comical as this scene sounds, its background was anything but amusing. Sixty-six years after Charles Darwin published his controversial Origin of Species, the debate he’d engendered over humankind’s evolution from primates had suddenly reached a fever pitch in this hamlet on the Tennessee River. Efforts to enforce a new state statute against the teaching of evolution in public schools had precipitated the arrest of Dayton educator John T. Scopes. His subsequent prosecution drew international press attention as well as the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It also attracted two headliners of that era–Chicago criminal attorney Clarence Darrow and former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan–to act as opposing counsel.

A carnival atmosphere pervaded Dayton as the opening of the trial approached in July of 1925. Banners decorated the streets. Lemonade stands were set up. Chimpanzees, said to have been brought to town to testify for the prosecution, performed in a side show on Main Street. Anti-Evolution League members sold copies of T. T. Martin’s book Hell and the High School. Holy rollers rolled in the surrounding hills and riverbanks.

Bryan characterized the coming courtroom battle as a ‘duel to the death’–one that would pit religious fundamentalists against others who trusted in scientific conclusions, and would finally determine the right of citizens to dictate the curricula of the schools their tax dollars supported. The case rapidly took on a farcical edge, however, as attorneys shouted at each other and outsiders strove to capitalize on the extraordinary publicity surrounding this litigation. (At one point, for instance, a black man with a cone-shaped head who worked New York’s Coney Island sideshows as Zip, the ‘humanoid ape,’ was offered to the defense as the ‘missing link’ necessary to prove Darwin’s scientific claims.) The ‘Scopes Monkey Trial,’ as history would come to know it, also included a personal dimension, becoming a hard-fought contest not just between rival ideas, but between Bryan and Darrow, former allies whose political differences had turned them into fierce adversaries.

Crusades to purge Darwinism from American public education began as early as 1917 and were most successful in the South, where Fundamentalists controlled the big Protestant denominations. In 1923, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill banning the use of all school texts that included evolutionist instruction. Later that same year, the Florida Legislature approved a joint resolution declaring it ‘improper and subversive for any teacher in a public school to teach Atheism or Agnosticism, or to teach as true, Darwinism, or any other hypothesis that links man in blood relationship to any other form of life.’

To Fundamentalists, for whom literal interpretation of the Bible was central to their faith, there was no room for compromise between the story of God’s unilateral creation of man and Darwin’s eons-long development of the species. Moreover, these critics deemed evolutionist theories a threat not only to the belief in God but to the very structure of a Christian society. ‘To hell with science if it is going to damn souls,’ was how one Fundamentalist framed the debate.

John Washington Butler couldn’t have agreed more. In January 1925, this second-term member of the Tennessee House of Representatives introduced a bill that would make it unlawful for teachers working in schools financed wholly or in part by the state to ‘teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible.’ Violation of the statute would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $500 for each offense.

Butler’s bill flummoxed government observers but delighted its predominately Baptist backers, and it sailed through the Tennessee House on a lopsided 71 to 5 vote. It went on to the state Senate, where objections were more numerous, and where one member tried to kill the legislation by proposing an amendment to also ‘prohibit the teaching that the earth is round.’ Yet senators ultimately sanctioned the measure 24 to 6. As the story goes, many Tennessee lawmakers thought they were safe in voting for this ‘absurd’ bill because Governor Austin Peay, a well-recognized progressive, was bound to veto it. However, Peay–in a prickly political trade-off that won him the support of rural representatives he needed in order to pass educational and infrastructural reforms–signed the Butler Act into law. As he did so, though, he noted that he had no intention of enforcing it. ‘Probably,’ the governor said in a special message to his Legislature, ‘the law will never be applied.’

Peay’s prediction might have come true, had not the ACLU chosen to make the statute a cause célèbre. Worried that other states would follow Tennessee’s lead, the ACLU agreed in late April 1925 to guarantee legal and financial assistance to any teacher who would test the law.

John Scopes wasn’t the obvious candidate. Scopes agreed, after some persuading by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, to serve as the guinea pig in an attempt to challenge the law on constitutional grounds.

The defense found the ideal defendant in the person of twenty-four-year-old John Thomas Scopes.  Defense lawyer Arthur Garfield Hays said of Dayton’s popular new general science teacher and football coach, “Had we sought to find a defendant to present the issue, we could not improved upon the individual.”  Scopes was clean-cut, cared about teaching and intellectual inquiry, but exhibited no hostility to religion.

John Scopes credits his English born father, Thomas Scopes, as being the major influence in his life.  In his autobiography Center of the Storm, John described his father as—next to Clarence Darrow—“the best read man I have ever known.”  One account has Thomas Scopes stepping off the boat at Galveston, Texas with four books in his luggage: the Bible, a hymn book, Carlyle’s The French Revolution, and Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Thomas and his wife, Mary, insisted that their children read literature and philosophy—and quizzed them regularly on their readings.  They were especially proud of their fifth child, John, whom Thomas called “an extraordinary boy.”

When John was eleven, his family moved from Paducah, Kentucky to Danville, Illinois.  Five years later, they moved to the southern Illinois farming community of Salem, where John would graduate from high school.  Coincidentally, the most famous native son of Salem, and a man held in high esteem by Scopes, was William Jennings Bryan.  Scopes called Bryan, “the greatest man produced in the United States since Thomas Jefferson.”

A gawky, 24-year-old Illinois native, he was still new to his job as a general science teacher and football coach at Rhea County Central High School. Yet his views on evolution were unequivocal. ‘I don’t see how a teacher can teach biology without teaching evolution,’ Scopes insisted, adding that the state-approved science textbook included lessons in evolution. And he was a vocal supporter of academic freedom and freedom of thought. Yet Scopes was reluctant to participate in the ACLU’s efforts until talked into it by Dayton neighbors who hoped that a prominent local trial would stimulate prosperity in their sleepy southeastern Tennessee town.

On May 7, Scopes was officially arrested for violating Tennessee’s anti-evolution statute. Less than a week later, William Jennings Bryan accepted an invitation from the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association to assist in Scopes’ prosecution.

Photo showing Clarence Darrow in court. Darrow is pictured in the center of the photo leaning on a table seating the defense. This photo was taken in 1925 inside the Dayton Courthouse in Rhea County, Tennessee. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 2008.151.2

On July 10, the Monkey Trial got underway, and within a few days’ hordes of spectators and reporters had descended on Dayton as preachers set up revival tents along the city’s main street to keep the faithful stirred up. Inside the Rhea County Courthouse, the defense suffered early setbacks when Judge John Raulston ruled against their attempt to prove the law unconstitutional and then refused to end his practice of opening each day’s proceeding with prayer.

Outside, Dayton took on a carnival-like atmosphere as an exhibit featuring two chimpanzees and a supposed “missing link” opened in town, and vendors sold Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. The missing link was in fact Jo Viens of Burlington, Vermont, a 51-year-old man who was of short stature and possessed a receding forehead and a protruding jaw.

One of the chimpanzees–named Joe Mendi–wore a plaid suit, a brown fedora, and white spats, and entertained Dayton’s citizens by monkeying around on the courthouse lawn.

In the busy two days before the start of his trial, in addition to greeting arriving lawyers and taking daily swims, Scopes showed his father around Dayton.  Thomas Scopes enjoyed the attention.  He told one reporter, “A father just naturally has to stick by his own flesh and blood, ma’am—no matter what they’ve done.”  His embarrassed son, listening to the conversation while seated in his yellow racing car, interjected: “Don’t blow so much, dad.”  Later, the two Scopes family members talked amiably with reporters at Robinson’s drug store.  The elder Scopes was opining that “I can’t think that a man that has read as much and seen as much as the world as Bryan can believe the things he says” when Bryan walked out from behind the prescription counted.  John quickly cut off his father: “Well, Mr. Bryan! I want you to meet my father.” When a photographer rushed to capture the chance meeting Thomas Scopes said, “My wife told me that if I let any of you fellows catch me in a newspaper photograph she’d get a divorce.”

The Scopes Trial brought in hundreds of reporters from all over the country, and it was the first trial to be broadcast on radio. Both the prosecuting attorney and Scopes’ defense attorney were charismatic men and drew significant attention to the case, which for the defense was more about defeating the Butler Act then about defending Scopes.

On Monday afternoon, Judge John T. Raulston declared that court would adjourn to where the temperature might be cooler and spectators accommodated more safely. When court resumed on a platform outside the courthouse, defense attorney Hays continued reading the defense experts’ sworn affidavits into the record (the judge had refused to allow them to testify in person). 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 behind Hays.

On the first day of his trial, Scopes appeared in court wearing a blue shirt and a hand-painted bow tie.  He took a seat in the front row between his father and George Rappalyea.  John Washington Butler sat nearby in the same row.  At 9:22 on Friday, July 10, 1925, Judge John Raulston called the case of State vs. John Thomas Scopes.  A grand jury was quickly empaneled and Raulston read the Butler Act that Scopes stood accused of violating.  Then he read the first chapter of Genesis.  He told the jury to “investigate” the charge against Scopes, and if they find a violation of the act, to “promptly return a bill.”

On the first business day of the trial, the defense tried and failed to quash the indictment on grounds that the law violated both the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that no one may be deprived of rights without due process of law, and the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. Describing the Butler Act (PDF) to be “as brazen and as bold an attempt to destroy learning as was ever made in the Middle Ages,” Darrow predicted there would be a natural progression from the forbidding of the teaching of evolution in public schools to the banning of books and censoring of newspapers.

The fondness of Rhea County students for their new teacher threatened to derail the proceedings.  One young boy told a reporter, “If Scopes doesn’t come back to school, there will be trouble from all the kids,”  and when the time came for three students of Scopes to testify to the grand jury, they were nowhere to be found.  Apparently, they took off for the woods fearing that their testimony might harm their teacher.  It fell to Scopes to track down the fugitives and return them to the courthouse to fulfill their assigned task in Dayton’s great summer drama.  That mission, it turned out, was the last significant role Scopes would play in the trial that bears his name.

Scopes quickly fell into the daily trial routine.  After spending one hot morning in court, Scopes and William Jennings Bryan, Jr. (who Scopes described as a “retiring and pleasant fellow,” and very unlike his famous father) headed out during the noon recess for a quick swim in a natural pool in the eroded limestone of the nearby foothills.  They arrived a few minutes late for the afternoon session.  Arthur Garfield Hays turned to Scopes when he finally took his seat at the defense table: “Where in the hell have you been?”  After Scopes answered, the defense lawyer lectured the young teacher on the importance of punctuality in trials…

Judge Raulston being fanned at Scopes trial. The trial began Friday, July 10, 1925, with Judge John T. Raulston presiding. More than 900 spectators packed the sweltering courtroom. Because of an error in the original indictment, most of the first morning was spent selecting another grand jury and drawing up a new indictment. With that task done, a trial jury of 10 farmers, a schoolteacher and a clerk was quickly impaneled, and the court adjourned for the weekend.

The entire prosecution case in the trial of John Scopes occupies less than two hours of a Wednesday afternoon session of court. The state calls only four witnesses. School Superintendent Walter White and Fred Robinson both testify that Scopes, in a conversation at Robinson’s drug store-soda fountain-book dispensary, admitted having taught evolution. Howard Morgan, age 14, and Harry “Bud” Shelton, age 17, appear as two eyewitnesses to the crime.

Prosecutor Thomas Stewart calls Morgan, the son of the owner of the Dayton Bank and Trust company (and also owner of the home Clarence Darrow occupies during the trial), as his second witness. Spectators smile as Morgan, a clean-cut boy wearing white pants and a white shirt, with a tie pulled down and to the side, nervously takes his seat in the witness chair.

A few days earlier, Morgan, having been tracked down by visiting members of the press anxious to know what effect the teaching of evolution might be having on Dayton’s young people, eagerly offered his views on the subject. “I lapped it up,” he told one reporter, “all about monkeys and things.”

Stewart asks Morgan if “Professor Scopes” ever taught him “anything about evolution.” “Yes sir,” the boy replies in a barely audible voice. “Just state in your own words, Howard, what he taught you and when it was,” Stewart requests. “It was along about the second of April. He said that the earth was once a hot molten mass, too hot for plant or animal life to exist upon it. In the sea, the earth cooled off; there was a little germ of one cell organism formed, and this organism kept evolving until it got to be a pretty good-sized animal, and then it came on to be a land animal, and it kept on evolving, and from this was man.” From the defense table, Arthur Garfield Hays offers his congratulations on Morgan’s history of life on earth: “Go to the head of the class.” Stewart asks Morgan if Scopes classified “man with reference to other animals.” He had, Morgan says, called humans “mammals.”

In his cross-examination, Clarence Darrow focuses his attention on the question of what it meant to be classified a mammal. “Dogs and horses, monkeys, cows, man, whales: he said all of those were mammals?” “Yes sir,” Morgan answers, “but I don’t know about the whales.” Apart from calling man a mammal, Darrow wants to know, “Did he tell you anything else that was wicked?” Morgan looks at his teacher and smiles. “No, not that I remember of,” he finally answers. “It has not hurt you any, has it?” Darrow asks, concluding his cross-examination. “No sir,” Morgan answers. As the courtroom erupts in laughter, Darrow turns to Mrs. Rappalyea, seated behind him, and asks, “Would you believe this is the twentieth century?”

Harry Shelton takes the stand next. Three years older than Howard, Harry studied evolution in Biology in mid-April, when Scopes substituted for an ill teacher.  Shelton testifies that Scopes reviewed the chapter on evolution in George Hunter’s Civic Biology. He offers little elaboration: “He taught all forms of life begin with a cell.” Darrow questions Shelton only briefly. He asks, “You didn’t leave church when he told you all forms of life begin with a single cell?” “No sir,” Shelton answers.

His brief part in the drama having been played, Shelton leaves the courtroom with Morgan. A reporter overhears Shelton asking his friend, “Don’t you think Bryan is a little narrow-minded?”

Later that day, a visiting reporter interviews mothers of the teenagers. Howard’s mother tells the reporter, “The teaching of evolution hasn’t hurt me or my boy. I don’t think any of us here in the mountains have studied evolution enough. I wish I knew more about it.” Harry’s mother expresses a similar view. “As far as I’m concerned,” she says, “they can teach my boy evolution every day of the year.” She adds that the subject threatened little harm because “he had forgotten most of his lessons” and “had to get the book out and study it up” for trial.

Invested parties flooded the Dayton streets. Vendors sold lemonade, while fundamentalist supporters set up stands selling anti-evolution books and even jokingly brought in chimpanzees to “testify for the prosecution.”

Shortly after eleven o’clock on the morning of the last day of the Scopes trial, the jury deliberates its verdict. There is no question what they will decide.  Defense attorney Clarence Darrow has asked the jury to come back with a verdict of “Guilty” so that the case might be taken to a higher court. After nine minutes, the jury completes its discussion on the courthouse lawn and returns inside to announce its verdict.

The foreman, at the request of John Raulston stands. “Mr. Foreman, will you tell us whether you have agreed on a verdict?” The foreman says the jury had reached a verdict. “What did you find?” Raulston asks. “We have found for the state, found the defendant guilty,” the foreman answers.

Judge Raulston asks John Scopes to come before him. He proceeds to pronounce his sentence, fixing his fine at one hundred dollars. Then, almost as an afterthought, Raulston asks if Scopes wished to say anything “as to why the court should not impose punishment upon you.” The defendant, coatless and looking rather tired, moves away from his lawyers and looks directly into the eyes of the judge. “Your Honour,” the young teacher says, “I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom—that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our Constitution of personal and religious freedom. I think the fine is unjust.”

Jury Selection Begins in the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee

Scopes later described the fateful meeting at Robinson’s that led to his agreeing to test the Butler Act as “just a drugstore conversation that got past control.” Many times over the coming months, he would regret having anything to do with the case. Scopes had hoped to spend the summer selling Fords for a five per cent commission, but with the comings and goings in Dayton, there was little time to make extra money. Had it not been for his father, who insisted the trial was John’s chance to serve his country; Scopes might have terminated his involvement.

John T. Scopes, wasn’t fired. Far from it. In fact, the president of the Dayton school board offered to renew his employment after the trial. But Scopes never planned to continue teaching in Dayton indefinitely. His original plan was to teach in Dayton until he had enough money to enable him to study law. In the wake of the trial, he was inundated with offers to capitalize on his fame:

Some telegrams and letters stated precisely the amounts I could earn for personal appearances or the use of my name. Other offers suggested there were no limits to what I could make. I could “shoot the moon.”… There was an offer of $50,000, for instance, to lecture on evolution from vaudeville stages; I swiftly rejected it. It would have put me on exhibit, which I was determined to avoid at all costs. There was also the fact that I didn’t know enough about evolution to lecture on it; this didn’t bother the promoters. I suddenly had a taste of what happens in America to a young man who skyrockets to spectacular fame or notoriety.

In the days and weeks following the trial, letters and telegrams poured into Scopes.  One writer offered Scopes a position as the Bishop of a new liberal church; several female writers proposed marriage; fundamentalists asked if they could “save” him.  The mail arrived in such a volume that Dayton had to hire an extra postal officer to deliver it daily in a washtub.  The letters included offers from motion picture companies and lecture promoters, all of which Scopes declined.  He wanted only, he said, “peace and emotional stability.”  He had “too much respect for the issues involved in the trial” to want to make “a quick dollar.”  When the continuing deluge of mail threatened to take over a second room in his rented home, Scopes and two friends “scooped up the letters by double armloads and dumped them in the yard.”  Each of the three men let a match and then watched the mostly unopened mail go up in flames.

The Monkey Trial

Scopes was intending to enter law school. But the dean of the law school at the University of Kentucky inadvertently dissuaded him from doing so by saying that Scopes could be a second Darrow. While Scopes held Darrow in great esteem, saying that he “had a greater influence on my life than any other man I have known,” he realized that he didn’t want to become “another William Jennings Bryan, Jr., walking in the shadow of another man’s fame.” (The younger Bryan aided his father in prosecuting Scopes, but was friendly with the defendant outside the courtroom, often taking swims with him as relief from the sweltering July weather.) Instead, he decided to pursue graduate work in geology, which had fascinated him during his college days. He enrolled in the Ph.D. program in geology at the University of Chicago, in part because of its sterling reputation and in part because of its proximity to Paducah.

Yet the trial continued to haunt him. As the appeal of the verdict to the Tennessee Supreme Court took place, he was pestered by reporters for interviews on “the same old subject.” In January 1927, the court reversed the judgment on a technicality: Judge Raulston imposed the fine, whereas the jury should have done so. The state attorney general declined to prosecute Scopes again, leaving the Butler Law intact and unchallenged. “It hardly mattered to me,” Scopes wrote. “I was too busy in graduate school to take any part in legal maneuvering and, besides, it seemed to me that the trial at Dayton had probably accomplished as much as any legal restating could do.” Even so, Scopes’s notoriety persisted. Later in the year, he was recommended for a graduate fellowship, which he was eventually denied: the president of the university administering the fellowship advised him to “take your atheistic marbles and play elsewhere.”

Short on funds, Scopes indeed looked elsewhere. Leaving graduate school, he worked for Gulf Oil of South America for three years, mainly in Venezuela, where he married Mildred Walker in 1930. To please his bride, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, but he remained agnostic. The couple eventually had two children, John and William. Returning to the University of Chicago in 1930, he began work on his dissertation, but was prevented from completing it by financial woes. He subsequently worked as a geologist for the United Production Corporation, later the United Gas Corporation, from 1933 to 1964. “Mine was the normal, ordinary work characteristic of any large oil and gas company,” he summarized. “There were no high lights and I had the same number and the same kind of experiences as anyone else who did that type of work.” He tried to ignore requests for interviews and information about the trial.

It wasn’t until 1960, when he reluctantly agreed to help to publicize the Hollywood version of Inherit the Wind, that Scopes began to discuss the trial in public again.

The film premiered in Dayton, and Scopes attended, not having been in the town since 1931. “Teachers still had to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t teach evolution,” he resignedly observed. Later, he contributed a memoir of the trial to Jerry R. Tompkins’s collection D-Days at Dayton: Reflections on the Scopes Trial (1965) and, with the aid of the journalist James Presley, composed his autobiography.

That very year a challenge to a state anti evolution law finally reached the United States Supreme Court, where the statute would be struck down as violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.  Scopes expressed optimism in his book, Center of the Storm, that, “The day will come when we will not be bothered by Fundamentalists.”  His humility concerning his own role remained:  “I furnished the body that was needed to sit in the defendant’s chair.”  He felt at peace with the fact that his life would forever be defined by a drugstore conversation that got out of hand.  “A man’s fate,” he wrote, “is often stranger than anything the imagination may produce.”

The Scopes trial didn’t quite lead to the resolution the public was looking for in terms of the symbolic battle of science versus religion. However, it succeeded in launching the debate to wider national attention, intensifying the weight of a debate which continues today.

One of the enduring debates concerning the Scopes trial revolves around whether Scopes ever actually taught the subject of evolution. George Rappalyea posed the question, holding up a copy of George W. Hunter’s Civic Biology, at Robinson’s drugstore. “You have been teaching ‘em this book?” he asked. Scopes answered, “Yes,” then went on to explain that, while substituting for the regular biology teacher in April 1925, he had assigned his students Hunter’s chapter on evolution. Illness the next day, however, kept him home and, to his recollection, no class discussion of the evolution materials ever took place. Scopes, however, remembered teaching the topic in a general way earlier in the same month to his general science students.

“I’m just an ordinary man now, working to support a fine family,” he told the Post in October 1943. “Occasionally people will ask if I am ‘the John Scopes,’ but usually I just don’t think about it.

the Butler Act (PDF)

John Scopes – Educator – Biography.com

Whatever Happened to Scopes? | NCSE

Scopes Trial | HistoryNet

John Scopes – PBS

Whatever Happened to John Scopes, the ‘Monkey-Trial Man’? | The …

Scopes “Monkey” – Famous Trials

Monkey Trial begins – Jul 10, 1925 – HISTORY.com

Legal Solutions Blog Today in 1925: John Scopes arrested for …

July 21, 1925: Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ Ends With Guilty Verdict | WIRED

Photographs from 1925 Tennessee vs. John Scopes – Smithsonian …

Monkey Trial begins – Jul 10, 1925 – HISTORY.com

Remembering the Scopes Trial – History in the Headlines

John Scopes: Trial, Biography & Quotes | Study.com

Timeline: Remembering the Scopes Monkey Trial : NPR

The Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial

The Scopes Trial – Boundless

 

 


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