When the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18th, 1920, states across the nation found themselves grappling with the implications of this new suffrage. One aspect that was particularly divisive was jury duty. Most states selected their jury pool from those who were eligible to vote, and the question became, “Would women now be counted among this number?” Some state constitutions and laws specifically guaranteed a “trial by a jury of 12 men”. Did this mean those constitutions and laws had to be amended before women could be added to the jury pool? Dozens of states initially barred women on those grounds.
Article XIII, Section 5 of the Ohio Constitution of 1851 did specifically guarantee a trial by a “jury of 12 men”, but the Ohio General Code was much more flexible and didn’t mention the sex of the jury pool. Opinion pieces appeared in newspapers and law journals across Ohio insisting that women did not meet the requirements of jury service, but Ohio lawmakers disagreed and the first female jurors were called for service a few short days after the passage of the nineteenth amendment.
That didn’t mean the transition wasn’t difficult or that women were particularly welcome. In the case of State v. Eva Catherine Kaber, a murder trial in the spring of 1921, Mrs. Kaber’s attorney demanded that the entire venire be thrown out because 1/3 of the prospective jurors were women. “We ask this not because we have any objection to women but because there is nothing in the law which permits them to serve as jurors. Until the Ohio Constitution is amended to provide for trial by men and women, we cannot have women jurors legally”, to which the presiding judge, Maurice Bernon, responded,
“I take it that the nineteenth amendment to the Federal Constitution gives to women the right to vote and to serve on juries – in short to enjoy the same rights as men.” (Enquirer, “Jury Seat is Won for Woman”)
The County Prosecutor fought for a mixed jury. “It is a case of a woman on trial for her life and I will make every effort to have women seated in the jury box, for they already have proved their sterling worth as jurors. They are fearless and have a keen sense of duty.” (Enquirer, “Women Jurors Fearless”)
In the end, Mrs. Kaber’s attorneys were successful in blocking all women from the jury. “’My experience has been that women jurors are more cold-blooded and merciless than men’ [her attorney] said. ‘They are less moved than men by the emotions that go to decide a case of this kind. The history of the world shows that whenever one woman has sat in judgment of another, she has been cruel to that woman. We will challenge every woman for cause, and if that fails we are ready to use every one of our 16 premptory (sic) challenges to get rid of them.’” (Enquirer, “Too Cruel”)
It's worth noting that Mrs. Kaber was found guilty by a jury of 12 men and sentenced to life in prison.
Of course, while many attorneys fought vociferously against women being included on a jury, it did not stop others from attempting to use the lack of women in the jury pool as just cause to retry a case that went against them. In an article entitled “Yes, the fair sex!”, attorney M.M. Chanley argued that his client was denied a fair trial because women were not included. The court was not swayed and the conviction stood, mainly because the pool was assembled before the ratification of the 19th amendment.
Newspapers at the time seemed befuddled by women’s desire to serve on a jury.
“The women, it is explained, do not understand that every one of the 1,650 men [called for jury duty] would gladly trade away his chance of being drawn for service,” (Enquirer, “Ohio Women Slighted”). Men, it seemed, had been attempting to avoid jury duty for years. They could not fathom why anyone would actually want to be called.
Once women were given the chance, they distinguished themselves as exemplary jurors and worthy of the responsibility conferred upon them. The first women were selected for jury duty in Hamilton County in October of 1920. The male jurors who served with them reported they “were insistent upon weighing each piece of evidence with utmost care” the article then continued “Miss Seldon, one of the women who served, corrected Attorney Howard Ferris, attorney for the plaintiff, when he asked whether the case was her first ‘offense’ as a juryman, by replying, ‘It is my first privilege.’” (Enquirer “Guilty! Is Women’s Verdict”)
During the trial of Judge William H. McGannon, who was charged with murder and perjury in February of 1921, one of the female jurors admitted that she had “‘in a way’… a settled opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant, but asserted this opinion could be set aside by the evidence. ‘We all have our prejudices,’ she said, ‘but we should rise above them.’” (Enquirer, “Mixed Jury Would be Uncontested”) This is a mindset considered enlightened even by today’s standards. To be able to acknowledge that you have prejudices, to recognize how they might affect your judgment and endeavor to set them aside in the interest of justice is a noble goal for any juror.
Of course, not all women were excited by the idea of jury duty. Many required exemptions because of their family or work obligations, but some felt it was not a woman’s place to sit in judgment upon a fellow soul. One woman was reported as saying she was “not a suffragist, did not register and does not desire to vote and, therefore, she did not feel she should be required to serve on a jury.” (Enquirer, “Two Women Excused, But Reasons of Third Fail to Save Her from Jury Duty”) Even still, once her duties were explained to her, the prospective juror appeared as required and fulfilled her duty, despite her own misgivings.
On August 23rd of 1920, 3 days before the 19th Amendment went into effect, an article appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer describing some of the perceived challenges of women serving as jurors:
“In municipal, police, mayor’s and magistrate’s courts, women may be called sooner [than Common Pleas]… Before such courts appear assault and battery cases, lapses of the moral code and similar offenses. Students wonder how women will react to these duties and whether or not they will be more severe than men in passing upon the offenders who appear.
“Then too, after equal suffrage has become a reality, the husband returning home from work for a good dinner may receive new and painful surprises. If called as talesmen, the new voters must go, and court officials say they can imagine the wife entering court with market basket on arm, to sit in a jury, while the angry home awaits a bite to eat.
“Students of crime wonder how women will treat their ‘sisters of scarlet’ and how they will treat the women of the peach-blossom cheek and soulful eyes on trial for the offense of man-killing. Officers say that it is difficult to induce male juries to convict, and they wonder whether or not women will be less considerate.” (Enquirer, “Women Excluded from Juries”)
Another complication arose in Common Pleas court because of juror confinement. Under Ohio law, jurors could not be separated until they reached a verdict. The Courthouse had special dining and sleeping quarters for juries specifically for this purpose, but they were not equipped to accommodate both men and women. The first mixed jury was required to stay over at the Courthouse in Hamilton County in March of 1921. A murder trial ran long and the jury of 11 men and one woman could not come to a consensus. “Because of the fact a woman was on the jury, it was found to be impossible to place the whole jury in one room. Instead, a suite of three rooms was engaged at the Burnet House. Mrs. Hohman was assigned to one room, the eleven male jurors to another, and two Bailiffs and a Deputy Sheriff made alternate use of the third room. Judge Darby ordered that either Charles Stagnaro, Deputy Sheriff, or Charles Gronauer, Bailiff, remain outside the door of the woman juror’s room so that they might testify that no one communicated with her during the night. Criminal Bailiff William Bowman was assigned to watch the other 11 jurors.” (Enquirer, “Guard at Woman Juror’s Door”)
The 19th Amendment was a long time coming and the rights bestowed on women were hard-won indeed. And though many in the legal community did not welcome them at first, the women called for jury duty held their heads high and treated jury service like the duty and privilege that it was.
"GO HOME!": IS COMMAND TO JURY AFTER WOMAN BUILIFF IN MCGANSON TRIAL IS ACCUSED OF HAVING URGED "HUNG" PANEL. (1921, Jun 01). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
GUARD: AT WOMAN JUROR'S DOOR WHEN ARBITER'S ARE LODGED FOR NIGHT IN HOTEL. JURY FAILS TO REACH VERDICT IN MURDER CASE AFTER DELIBERATING TEN HOURS. (1921, Mar 17). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
"GUILTY!": IS WOMEN'S VERDICT IN FIRST CASE TRIED BY FEMININE JURORS. TWO MEN CONVICTED IN NORWOOD COURT. JUDGES ARE INDULGENT IN ACCEPTING EXCUSES OFFERED IN OTHER HAMILTON COUNTY TRIBUNALS TO GAIN RELIEF FROM SERVICE--BABE IS "EXHIBIT A.". (1920, Oct 12). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
SPECIAL DISPATCH TO, T. E. (1921, Jun 29). JURY SEAT: IS WON FOR WOMAN IN FACE OF PROTEST FROM MRS. KABER'S COUNSEL. CHARGES OF ILLEGALITY PROVE TO BE FUTILE, AS DEFENSE LOSES FIRST ROUND OF CONTEST. WIDOW GASPS AT BARB DIRECTED BY STATE. STABBING WAS EMPLOYED ONLY AS LAST RESORT AFTER FOUR YEARS' EFFORT TO KILL OHIO PUBLISHER, CONTENDS PROSECUTOR, PROMISING SURPRISE. Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
JUST GIGGLE,: AND GIRLS CAN ESCAPE JURY SERVICE IN ATLANTIC CITY, AS RESULT OF JUDGE'S ORDER. (1921, Jan 27). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
"MIXED" JURY: WOULD BE UNCONTESTED MOGANNON'S ATTORNEY SAYS, AS WOMAN IS ACCEPTED. FIVE MEMBERS OF PANEL CHOSEN TENTATIVELY BEFORE FIRST DAY OF TRIAL IS ENDED. (1921, Feb 08). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
SPECIAL DISPATCH TO, T. E. (1921, May 30). OHIO WOMEN "SLIGHTED": BY JURY COMMISSIONERS, SUFFRAGISTS IN STATE CAPITAL BELIEVE. Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
TOO CRUEL!: SAYS MRS. KABER'S AID, IN ANNOUNCING INTENTION TO PREVENT WOMEN SERVING ON MURDER JURY, IF POSSIBLE. (1921, Jun 27). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
TWO WOMEN EXCUSED,: BUT REASONS OF THIRD FAIL TO SAVE HER FROM JURY DUTY. (1920, Oct 08). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
WOMAN IS GRAND JUROR.: MRS. GRACE BROADSTONE, NORWOOD, QUALIFIES FOR SERVICE. (1920, Oct 06). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
WOMEN BARRED FROM JURIES. (1921, Feb 05). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
WOMEN ENTITLED TO SEATS: ON KENTUCKY JURIES, COURT DECIDES, AT CLOSING SESSION. (1921, Jun 25). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
SPECIAL DISPATCH TO, T. E. (1920, Aug 23). WOMEN: EXCLUDED FROM JURIES FOR ANOTHER YEAR. STUDY OF OHIO LAW DISCLOSES. MEN MAY HAVE TO WAIT IN VAIN FOR MEALS IF WIVES ARE CALLED INTO COURTS. Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
WOMEN JURORS FEARLESS.: SAYS STANTON, IN ANNOUNCING PLANS REGARDING KABER TRIAL. (1921, Jun 28). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
WOMEN: SEATED IN JURY BOX AT TRIAL OF SUSPECT IN DAN KABER MURDER--MCGANNON'S INDISPOSITION DELAYS HEARING. (1921, Sep 20). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
WOMEN TO SERVE ON JURIES. (1921, Jul 07). Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from
SPECIAL DISPATCH TO, T. E. (1921, Feb 27). YES, THE FAIR SEX!: ATTORNEY INSISTS ON WITH WOMEN ON JURY. Cincinnati Enquirer (1872-1922) Retrieved from