History is a Bitch, or, in This Case, a Bastard

img_0680While catching the turgid 1949 film version of The Fountainhead this week, I noticed that, in the climactic courtroom scene, all the jurors were men, and white ones at that. This reminded me of the 1957 film 12 Angry Men, which, as the title indicates, also features a completely vag-less jury. Next thing I know, I was up to my favorite form of multitasking: looking things up on the laptop while simultaneously watching a movie on cable. I found some interesting results about the history of women on juries in California, in which the Los Angeles area plays a major part.

According to these Los Angeles Times clippings from October 1909, the first female selected for jury duty in California was Santa Monica’s own Johanna Englemann (or Engelmann), who was summoned (in person! by a Sheriff’s deputy!) in 1909.  In the first article, Englemann is paraphrased as saying that “a woman generally is too tender-hearted to make a good juror,” and that “she could not by her vote in the jury box say the word that would place a rope about a man’s neck and consign him to the gallows.”  The second article quotes prosecuting attorney Guy Eddie as saying “[w]omen are qualified to act as jurors . . . . The Superior Court judges have decided on that point. Woman is not the slave of man she once was.”  But Eddie reportedly went on to say that “[t]he best way to cure them [of a desire for jury duty] is to give them a taste of it. If they heard some of these things they would not be so anxious for places in the jury box.”   Police Chief Edward F. Dishman reportedly went further, arguing that placing women on juries would just give them the vaipors: “Just picture a sensitive woman, with a sense of decency, sitting through some of the cases it is necessary to deal with . . . . ” 

We will never know whether Johanna Englemann succumbed to the vile language and crude notions of the various cads, scoundrels, and rapscallions in her case.  The third article notes that Englemann was excused from her case based on “a peremptory challenge,” a number of which each side in a court case generally gets to make while choosing the jury.  However, the article reports that Englemann became famous during the process, receiving three marriage proposals, and that she became “the victim of kodak fiends.”  The first paparazzi!

At a time when enough California voters have changed our Constitution to take away the right of gay couples to marry, and some bloated old white men are using ugly language to try to keep the country’s first Hispanic female nominee off the Supreme Court, this debate not too long ago about preventing “the fairer sex” from sitting in the jury box still seems rather pertinent.