Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century
Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette
The plight of John T. Scopes dominated headlines for weeks, but behind the scenes of the famous "Monkey Trial" were other dramas hidden from public view. Now a serendipitous discovery has opened a new window on the "Trial of the Century," enabling modern readers to comprehend more completely the tensions that gripped a Tennessee community—and the nation—in 1925.
Historian Marcel LaFollette was combing through unprocessed records at the Smithsonian when she found a cache of more than sixty never-before-published photographs taken at the Scopes trial. Her research on these photos sheds new light on the proceedings, as well as on the journalists and scientists who gathered for this epic confrontation between science and tradition.
“LaFollette does a fine job of using the pictures to open up many different stories of the trial. . . . She intelligently introduces many issues—journalistic objectivity, the religious preferences of the scientists, the objectifying gaze of the journalists on the local holiness religious practices, and the failed aspirations for economic rebirth in Dayton—without getting too far from the images or losing general readers.”
—Reports of the National Center for Science Education
“A fine book that shows us a side of a much-studied historical event that has been rendered invisible by historical forces. . . . the photographs are accompanied by a clearly written text with some novel insights drawn from LaFollette’s extensive knowledge of science popularization and the history of science journalism. . . . A valuable contribution to our understanding of an important historical event that has been much misrepresented in popular culture. It is also thoroughly enjoyable reading.”
—Quarterly Review of BiologySee all reviews...
“Journalists finally have gotten center-state status in a new history of America's ‘trial of the century.’ LaFollette . . . goes beyond mere discovery and publication of unique historical documents, which are the photos. She shows the power of photography to create historical statements. . . . The photos provide both new insights and questions about the cultural history of the trial. . . . Her shift away from Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan and legal issues, and toward the cultural ones via historical photography and narrative demonstrates the dynamic role of the press in cultural history. . . . She recognizes the role of the press in creating and recording American history.”
“Weaves new pictures into the historical memory of the trial [and] provides a brief, yet important introduction to two science writers who shaped Scopes trial history.”
“Reframing Scopes is a light, enlightening, educational and engaging read. Check it out.”
“LaFollette has unearthed a gold mine of new and provocative photographs from the Scopes trial, and she puts these to excellent use in explaining the ways in which scientists, journalists, and lawyers collaborated to publicize their own version of the trial of the century”
—Jeffrey P. Moran, author of The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents
“LaFollette resurrects a wonderful collection of photographs—some still familiar, others long forgotten—that recaptures a colorful trial from a distant era that still echoes today.”
—Edward J. Larson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion
“A riveting account.”
—Thomas Lovejoy, director, Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the EnvironmentSee fewer reviews...
Deftly integrating text and illustrations, LaFollette takes readers behind the scenes to witness the trial from the perspective of science writers Watson Davis and Frank Thone, who had come to cover the trial but became informal liaisons between defense attorneys and the scientific community. The two journalist-photographers observed visitors and events and even befriended John Scopes in the years following the trial. Their impressions offer new views of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan and reveal the role of fascinating characters like George Washington Rappleyea, the cocky promoter who saw the trial as a way to bring publicity, tourists, and new business to Dayton.
These photos—trial witnesses and visiting celebrities, an outdoor baptism service, defiant ministers assembled in front of a Dayton church—help ground the Scopes trial in southern religion and culture and relate it to a time and place on the cusp of change. The notes of Davis and Thone preserve keen observations of personalities and events, while letters between Scopes and the two reporters in the years after the trial help illuminate the character of an ordinary young man thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
LaFollette weaves an engaging story of friendship, newly minted coalitions between scientists and journalists, and acts of goodwill in the midst of turmoil. The Scopes trial remains the consummate metaphor for cultural combat between science and religion. Reframing Scopes enables us to understand better the passions that swept one small town and came to divide the nation.