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by Phyllis Walker

This article was first published in "Morgan County History and Genealogy Vol. 1 No. 3", the newsletter of the Morgan County History and Genealogy Association, Inc.

Seventy-five years ago, August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was approved. Women were allowed to assume some responsibility for our government officials and were extended the right to vote. Five years later a group of local women made history in Morgan County Circuit Court by responding to a summons to serve as jurors in a case set for trial. This was the first time a jury of women had ever been called in the local courts.

The case at issue was the State against John Lowe of Indianapolis, formerly of Morgan County, charged with the illegal transportation of liquor - a common enough problem since the ratification of Prohibition in 1919 prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of any liquors. However, the case itself was not the significant issue.

Officials decided to call a female jury and for this purpose 25 or 30 women were notified to appear. I now quote from the Martinsville Daily Reporter of 22 Apr 1925: "Consternation reigned in many households and calls to be excused began to come in. Sickness and other good excuses released quite a number." One was supposed to have said "she just couldn't come in as she had a luncheon engagement." The reporter allowed, however, that the percent of excuses was no greater than that offered by men.

Fourteen women reported at the hour specified. As the news reporter smirked, "They came ready to do or die and fulfill their obligation as full-fledged citizens." Those appearing were the wives of A. G. Rose, W. E. Gum, R. W. Miles, Ray Montgomery, J. S. Hinkle, Harry Cure, Ben Tilford, N. H. Gano, Loren Hadley, Will Farley, H. H. Nutter, Dewey Goss, George Allen, and Miss Hattie Cobb.

Who orchestrated the introduction of women as jury members? Was it the special judge, Fremont Miller, who was on the bench? Or perhaps young practicing attorney Omar O'Harrow, Morgan County native, born in Green Township to Civil War veteran Henry and Rebecca Speaks O'Harrow, who had opened his law office in 1922 and a short time later been appointed deputy prosecuting attorney? Surely it was not the attorney for the defense, Centerton native Fred Steiger? Not when Attorney Steiger pled for continuance of the simple case on the grounds that the jury had not been properly drawn. He argued that this was a special jury where the regular panel should have been used ... that it was unprecedented in this court to call a female jury ... that sufficient notice had not been given ... that ... that practically all of the women summoned were members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (W. C. T. U.).

Attorney O'Harrow insisted, however, that this was a list of first class jurors, the proceedings very regular and that many of the regular panel had been excused.

Judge Miller overruled Steiger's motion for a continuance but granted his request to secure some of the regular panel. The sheriff was instructed to do so forthwith and court was adjourned until afternoon.

That afternoon three men of the regular panel, Clyde Schmidt, Wm Guthridge and Wm Woodward, had been found and were in the jury box. The sheriff affirmed that he had made a diligent effort to find enough regular jurors but, alas, three were all he could locate. (Did the sheriff also want an all-woman jury?) Judge Miller then told the officer to fill the jury places with qualified citizens, and the female foot was in the door. Twelve citizens were in the box; they were sworn in and Attorney Steiger began the questions.

Many women were challenged by the defense on the grounds that they were not either a freeholder, one who owned real estate, nor a householder, one who was head of house. The ladies were not considered acceptable because they were only spouses of the head of house. Numerous questions were asked to test their interest in the liquor laws. One lady admitted interest in the 18th Amendment which established Prohibition and was challenged; however, the judge overruled.

Each side could excuse three jury members and Attorney O'Harrow promptly dismissed the three men. Attorney Steiger requested the jury leave the room while he filed his numerous objections and protests. The judge ruled the case be continued to the next morning and asked that the sheriff once again try to secure a regular panel.

When court convened the next morning, Steiger resumed his fight to save his client John Lowe, charged with violating the liquor law, from a trial by a jury of women. Weary and red-eyed from a night's work summoning members of the regular panel, the sheriff produced five males who took their places in the jury box. The vacant seven seats were then taken by the women.

Attorney Steiger was not content. He called County Clerk Stanton to the stand and questioned him about the laws relative to the drawing of the jury. The sheriff was then called and questioned, apparently in an effort to show that he had not proceeded with due diligence and was biased in the case. Fortunately, Judge Miller had reached the end of his patience and overruled. He said that there was no longer a law requiring a man to be tried by twelve men and ordered the case resumed.

Mrs. Elizabeth Gano, wife of Nixon Gano and president of the local W. C. T. U. for 17 years, was excused by the defense along with Mrs. Rose and Mrs. Jenkins. Replacing them were Mrs. Dewey Goss, Mrs. Loren Hadley, and Mrs. H. H. Nutter. With these changes the jury was accepted and the trial began. The jury retired late in the afternoon and brought forth a verdict of acquittal at about 10:00. Apparently the witnesses for the State changed their stories on the stand to the opposite of their sworn statements, and Mr. Lowe was free.

The more significant verdict was that the women acquitted themselves with credit and proved to be just as qualified to serve as jurors as any man.

Each woman called to play a part in this mini-drama of history was a highly-respected, stable influence in the community, some in ways more highly visible to the public eye and some in the more usual role of the times, supporting their husbands.

Hattie Cobb, a maiden lady, daughter of James and Nancy Tucker Cobb, born near the close of the Civil War in 1864, was active in church and club affairs. Literary Club, Denominational Garden Club and Hospital Guild were among her interests. She was a cousin to Byron and Katherine Burton.

Elizabeth Jefferes Gano, daughter of Abraham and Edith Fellows Jefferes, married Nixon Gano in 1891 and moved to Martinsville in 1900. Her work with the Temperance Union was well known.

Ida Kiefer Ellis, wife of John Ellis, was widely known throughout the county, having been associated in the farm implement business with her father. Born in 1869 to Julius C. and Mary Hastings Kiefer, she was a charter member of the local Eastern Star Lodge. She was the mother of Mrs. K. L. Dickens and Julius Ellis.

Bertha Johnston Rose, born 1871 in Chicago, became Mrs. Aaron Gilbert Rose in 1898 and moved to Martinsville. She was a charter member of the Women's Club and of the Department Club. She was a forceful organizer and one who left her mark on the social life of the community.

Laura Sims Jenkins, wife of Luther Jenkins who owned a men's clothing store, had moved to Martinsville about 1906 from Kentucky and became an active member of a number of civil and church organizations. Her daughter Rhea became the wife of Frank Adams and lived for years on Burton Lane. Their daughter Martha Lou Adams married Henry Youngblood and lives now near Monrovia.

Lora Johnson Allen, wife of attorney George Albert Allen, was active in Eastern Star and Republican clubs. She was the mother of Pauline Caldwell, who, with her father, practiced law here for some time. A son, Col. Albert Allen, still lives in the area.

Laura Drake Tilford was the wife of Benjamin Tilford who was associated with Home Building Association and also a registered pharmacist. She at one time had assisted in the family drugstore, and the couple was active in Democratic politics. She was the daughter of Amos and Martha Bryant Drake, born in 1861. Her great-niece was Mrs. Cleo Merideth; her nephews were the doctors Paul and Hugh Williams.

Camille Taylor Miles came to Martinsville about 1917 where Mr. Miles became the owner of the Morgan County Abstract Company. Their daughter Ruth Miles was well known as the supervisor of the Art Department in the local schools.

Callie Cunningham Nutter, wife of Huitt H. Nutter and daughter of Ben and Emily Stout Cunningham, had served as deputy while her husband was auditor of Morgan County. She was from an old pioneer family of Jefferson Township and was active in the Christian Church.

Ethel Montgomery, wife of First Christian Church Pastor Ray Montgomery, came to Martinsville in 1916 and left in 1926 for Vincennes, where the couple served for 32 years.

Forest Hollingsworth Hadley, wife of local grocer Loren Hadley, was born near Crown Center and was the daughter of Fremont and Ann Felkins Hollingsworth. The Hadley grocery was located on the southwest corner of the square just north of the current post office.

Ruth Walters Goss, the daughter of John and Rosa Peterson Walters, was born in 1898. She married Dewey Goss Sr. in 1920. She later managed the Martinsville License Branch for 13 years and owned the Goss Insurance Agency. She was a charter member of Kappa Sigma Sorority and was active in the Republican Party National Federation for Women, American Legion Auxiliary and numerous other clubs for women.

Lura Buis Farley, born in 1888 in Putnam County, was the daughter of Reason and Luetta Hill Buis. She was active in the Presbyterian Church. Her husband was a mechanic employed for many years at the Hendrickson Ford Company.

Pearl Cox Hinkle, daughter of Fidelus and Althea Cox, was born in 1880 at Brownstown. She was the wife of Dr. James S. Hinkle. He was a house physician at Martinsville and Barhard Sanitariums, and Pearl was widely known for her gift and antique shop at 459 E. Morgan St. She was also a talented organist and pianist. Their daughter, Martha, was the wife of Donald Mosier.

As you can see, all of the women were from prominent, well-established families. They were leaders in the social and cultural fabric of the community. Each one of them had the courage to step up when called upon, and for that we salute them.

Morgan County History And Genealogy

30 September 2000