Last week, Professor James Oldham participated in a discussion of his new book, Trial by Jury. This is his explanation of the striking cover image:
This all-woman jury sat on November 2, 1911 to try A.A. King, editor of the Watts News, for having published indecent and obscene language in an issue of his newspaper. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times on November 3, King had printed, verbatim, “hard epithets” used about him by a City Councilman. King testified that he wanted the people of Los Angeles to know what kind of a man the councilman was. The jury clearly approved, deliberating only twenty minutes before returning an acquittal.
Women’s suffrage was granted in California by constitutional amendment in October 1911, and in the month following over 80,000 women in Los Angeles registered to vote. See Rebecca J. Mead, How the Vote Was Won: Women Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914 (New York and London: New York University Press, 2004): 148. Court officials responsible for impaneling juries evidently assumed that eligibility for jury service accompanied the right to vote. For A.A. King’s trial, the Deputy Constable summoned 36 women for jury duty. All 36 appeared, and 12 were chosen (their names appear in the Los Angeles Times article, as does a description of the voir dire). On April 25, 1912, however, the District Attorney of Sacramento County issued an opinion letter pointing out that all references in the California Code to jurors were to men, and that since “the constitutional guaranty of the right to trial by jury is everywhere recognized as only the right to a jury as it existed at common law; that the legislature would have to change the law expressly if it were intended that women be eligible for jury duty.” In 1917, the California legislature amended the law to make women’s jury eligibility official. See Leland Stanford, “Early Women Jurors in San Diego,” The Journal of San Diego History 11 (April 1965): 16.