The Scopes Monkey Trial

On this page:

Who was Involved in these Events?

The "Drug Store Conspirators"

Lawyers for the Defense

Lawyers for the Prosecution

Witnesses for the Prosecution

The Expert Witnesses for the Defense

The Jurors

How It All Happened

Part 1 - The Trial

Part 2 - The Appeal

What Happened After the Trial?

What were the Long-term Effects?

Why was it called the "Monkey" Trial?

For play script, movie script and court transcript click here


1:   Another 'Trial of the Century'?

According to some newspaper reports, the trial of O.J. Simpson on a charge of double homicide in 1995 was "the trial of the century" - a label that had, by then, been flogged as thoroughly as the proverbial dead horse.  In 1925, however, it was a very different story.

The first ever trial to carry this title seems to have been the proceedings, in 1913, against businessman Leo Frank who was accused - probably falsely - of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan in Atlanta.  Eleven years later Clarence Darrow led the defense in the famous "Leopold and Loeb" murder trial, in Chicago, also described, at the time, as "the trial of the century."

In the case of the Frank, and Leopold and Loeb trials, both of which involved the murder of a child, the public revulsion may to some degree have warranted the hyperbole.  But what was it about the Scopes Trial of 1925 that earned it the same title?
In Part 15 (under construction) we will take an in-depth look at the significance of the events in Dayton and try to answer this question.
The purpose of this section is to provide a summary or overview of the basic facts of the trial.

Who was Involved in these Events?

(Some characters appear in more than one group because they played multiple roles.)

The Judge:
The Honorable J.T. (John Tate) Raulston (circuit judge for the 18th judicial district)

The Defendent:
John Thomas Scopes (sports coach and teacher at Rhea County High School)

The "Drug Store Conspirators":
The Drug Store Conspiracy for details)
Wallace Haggard (local attorney)
Herbert Hicks (local attorney)
Sue Hicks (local attorney - brother of Herbert Hicks)
J.Gordon McKenzie (County Judge)
W.E. Morgan (local businessman)
George Rappelyea (Mining company manager)
Frank E. "Mr Earle" Robinson (owner of Robinson's Drug Store and chairman of the Rhea County Board of Education
Note: Robinson is frequently referred to as "Fred".  I am indebted to Tom Davis of Bryan College for correcting me on this point.)
John Thomas Scopes (co-opted)
Walter White (Rhea County Superintendant of Schools)
Burt Wilber (constable)

For the Defense
(The final line up - see
For the Defense for details)
Clarence Darrow (pro bono volunteer - effective head of the defense team)
Arthur Garfield Hays (ACLU - nominally manager of the defense team)
Dudley Field Malone (pro bono volunteer)
Frank B. McElwee (local attorney)
John R. Neal (Dean of private law school in Knoxville and technically head of the defense team)
William T. Thomas (Darrow's legal associate)

For the Prosecution
(The final line up - see
For the Prosecution for details)
William Jennings Bryan (volunteer - assistant prosecutor)
William Jennings Bryan Jnr (volunteer - assistant prosecutor, W.J. Bryan's son)
Wallace Haggard (volunteer - assistant prosecutor)
Herbert Hicks (volunteer - assistant prosecutor)
Sue Hicks (volunteer - assistant prosecutor)
Ben McKenzie (volunteer - assistant prosecutor, retired district attorney-general)
J. Gordon McKenzie (volunteer - assistant prosecutor, Ben McKenzie's son)
Thomas A. "Tom" Stewart (Chief Prosecutor - Attorney-General for the 18th judicial district)

For the Prosecution
(In the order in which they gave evidence)
Walter White (School superintendent)
Howard Morgan (student at Rhea County High School - claimed he was present when Scopes allegedly taught Darwin's theory of evolution)
Harry Shelton (student at Rhea County High School - claimed he was present when Scopes allegedly taught Darwin's theory of evolution)
Frank E. Robinson (drug store owner and chairman of the school board)

Expert Witnesses for the Defense
(Only Maynard Metcalf and William Jennings Bryan gave evidence in person - see
The Expert Witnesses - and Others for more on Maynard Metcalf) and Duel in the Shade for Darrow's questions to Bryan.
Fay-Cooper Cole (Professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago)
Winterton C. Curtis (Professor of zoology, University of Missouri)
Charles Hubbard Judd (Director of the School of Education, University of Chicago)
Jacob G. Lipman (Director of the New Jersey agricultural Experiment Station at New Brunswick)
Kirtley F. Mather (Chairman of the Geology department at Harvard University)
Maynard M. Metcalf (Zoologist, researching at Johns Hopkins)
Wilbur A. Nelson (State Geologist for Tennessee)
Horatio Hackett Newman (Dean of the College of Science at the University of Chicago)
William Jennings Bryan (Politician, public speaker, assistant prosecutor)
Dr. Shailer Matthews (Dean of the School of Divinity, University of Chicago)
Dr Herbert E. Murkett (Pastor, First Methodist Church, Chattanooga)
Dr. Herman Rosenwasser (Rabbi and linguist, San Fransisco)
Walter C. Whitaker (Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, Knoxville)

The Jurors
(The list covers everyone who was called as possible jurors for the trial, in the order they were called, It includes their occupation and religious affiliation, and (where relevant) the reason they were excused from jury service.
Only those people with a number against their name actually served on the jury.)

1.     W.F. Roberson (farmer, no religious affiliation)
2.     J.W. Dagley (farmer, Methodist)
3.     Jim Riley (farmer.  Religious affiliation, if any, not known)
        J.P. Massingill (minister - excused by Darrow on grounds of partiality)
        J.H. Harrison (excused at own request on grounds of age.  He was 66)
4.     W.D. Taylor (farmer, described himself as "Methodist Episcopal, South" (Southern Methodist))
        Tom Jackson (farmer, Southern Methodist - excused by Darrow on grounds of partiality)
5.     R.L. Gentry ((farmer, public school teacher, Baptist)
        J.C. Dunlap (After objection by J.G. McKenzie he was excused by judge on grounds of partiality)
        W.A. Ault (merchant, Baptist - excused by Darrow on grounds of partiality)
        Will Weir (teacher - excused by judge after he admitted that he was partial)
6.     J.R. Thompson (ex-US marshall, farm owner (not a farmer), Methodist)
7.     W.B. Smith (farmer, Baptist)
        J.T. Leuty (farmer, no religious affiliation, excused by J.G. McKenzie on grounds of partiality)
8.     Jess Goodrich (shipping clerk, Campbellite)
9.     J.H. Bowman (cabinet maker turned farmer, Methodist)
10.   Bill Day (farm owner.  Rented his farm out or farmed it himself, Baptist)
        H. A. Davis (Was called but did not respond.)
        F. S. Collins (Was called but did not respond.)
11.   R.L. West (farmer, Baptist)
        W.P. Ferguson (farmer, Baptist - excused by Darrow on grounds of partiality)
12.   J.S. Wright (farmer, Baptist)

How it All Happened

The basis for the Scopes trial was laid when the Tennessee State Legislature passed the Butler Act - which took effect on March 21st, 1925.
The essence of the Act was that it made it illegal for anyone:

"... to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals"

in any state-funded educational institution.
(For the full wording of the Butler Act see
The Butler Did It)

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) were already aware that the Act was likely to become law because it had been passed by the lower house of the Tennessee legislature by a landslide (in January, 1925).  After a few false starts, the ACLU sent a press release to several Tennessee newspapers, such as the Chattanooga Daily Times, announcing that they would provide legal assistance, etc. for a school teacher in Tennessee who would be willing to stand trial for having taught evolution in a public school so that a test case could be mounted to challenge the constitutional validity of the Act.

Encouraged by George Rappelyea, (a mining engineer who managed six local coal and iron mines owned by the Cumberland Coal Company), a group of leading citizens in the small town of Dayton* - the "drug store conspirators" - decided to accept the ACLU's offer, in the hope that the publicity surrounding the trial would help to reverse the town's declining fortunes.  On May 4th the group recruited John Scopes, football coach and algebra, chemistry and physics teacher employed, on a one year contract, by Rhea County High School as the subject for the test case, on the basis that he had taught from the section on evolution in Hunter's A Civic Biology - the State-approved textbook.

(* Dayton is situated in the valley between the Cumberland Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains.  It is just a few miles West of a line from Chattanooga (36 miles to the Sou' Sou' West) to Knoxville (79 miles to the North East).)

Rappelyea sent a telegram to the ACLU's New York office.  The ACLU replied the next day, accepting his proposal.  Scopes was charged with having taught evolution on April 24th, 1925.  A preliminary hearing on May 9th bound him over pending a specially convened Grand Jury hearing on May 25th.  The members of the Grand Jury, who were well aware of the true purpose of the charge against Scopes, handed down an indictment and Scopes was instructed to present himself at the Rhea County court house for trial on the morning of July 10th.
At no time was Scopes held in jail on this charge which, by the way, was only classed as a "misdemeanor", not a "felony."

On hearing about the trial, from the leaders of the WCFA (World's Christian Fundamentals Association), on May 12th William Jennings Bryan volunteered his services to the prosecution.  By the end of that week Clarence Darrow had contacted Scopes with an offer to appear pro bono for the defense.  Darrow effectively became the leading defense counsel, though John Neal was technically chief counsel for the defense.  Bryan, on the other hand, was only one of several assistant prosecutors under the leadership of Tom Stewart (Attorney General for the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit).

Part 1 - The Trial

The trial ran for 8 days (plus two weekends), from July 10th - July 21st, 1925 (inclusive), and it certainly brought Dayton the publicity the "drug store conspirators" had hoped for.  At least 200 reporters, from all over the world, covered the trial; and thanks to station WGN, Chicago, the entire trial was broadcast over the radio, the first ever broadcast of its kind.

The prosecution team called just four witnesses - Howard Morgan and Harry Shelton, both of whom had reportedly been present when Scopes had allegedly taught evolution (see Part 11: Was Scopes Guilty? for further details); along with Walter White, the Rhea County superintendent of schools and Frank Robinson*, owner of Robinson's Drug Store and chairmain of the Rhea County Board of Education (both men were participants in the drug store conspiracy").
(*   Robinson is often referred to as "Fred".  In fact his first name was "Frank", and he was more commonly known as "Mr Earle".  My thanks to Tom Davis of Bryan College for bringing this to my attention.)

The defense team had the services of eight "expert witnesses", though only one of them actually made it to the witness stand - Dr Maynard Metcalf.  Thereafter Judge Raulston ruled that none of the expert testimony could be presented to the jury, since it was not relevant to the simple question: "Did Scopes teach that humans had evolved from a lower life form or not?"  He did, however, agree to having the testimony entered into the trial record so that it would be taken into account if the case went to appeal.
All eight experts submitted their testimony in the form of affidavits, apparently in order to avoid cross examination.
(See Part 6:   The Expert Testimony for a comparison between some key points in the expert testimony and modern views on evolution.)

Of the eight days of the trial, much of which was taken up with legal arguments, the jury were only present in court for a matter of hours.  They did not, for example, hear the only evidence from a defense witness delivered in person - from Dr. Maynard Metcalf; they did not hear any of the expert testimony which was read into the record on the morning of Day 7; and contrary to the depiction in Inherit the Wind, they did not (officially!) hear one word of the confrontation between Bryan and Darrow on the afternoon of Day 7.  (For a detailed evaluation of Darrow's questioning of Bryan see The Duel in the Shade.)

On Day 8, though he had previously agreed that Bryan might question Darrow, Malone and Hays, Judge Raulston ruled that the precedings of the previous afternoon had been irrelevant to the trial and should be struck from the record.  This in turn put paid to any possibility of the prosecution calling the defense lawyers to give evidence.
Darrow still had a trick up his sleeve, however.  Knowing that Bryan had prepared a major speech for the prosecution's closing summation*, Darrow waived the defense's right to make a closing statement - which meant that Bryan could not deliver his summation either.
Instead Darrow asked the judge to bring the jury in and instruct them to return a "guilty" verdict.  He most certainly did not change Scopes' plea from "not guilty" to "guilty", nor did he make his request directly to the members of the jury.  If he had entered a "guilty" plea there would have been no basis for subsequently mounting an appeal against the "guilty" verdict.

(* The full text of Bryan's proposed speech is included in most versions of the trial transcript.  See Part 20 for very reasonably priced e-book version of the transcript.)

After encouragement from Darrow, Tom Stewart and the judge, the jury took just 9 minutes to return a "guilty" verdict.  The judge asked the jury if they wanted to set the amount of the fine, but they chose to leave it to him.  Chief Prosecutor Tom Stewart commented on the fact that this was possibly an improper procedure, but no one was paying attention.
Judge Raulston sentenced Scopes to pay the minimum fine allowed under the act - $100.

Scopes subsequently claimed, both immediately after the trial and in his autobiography, that he never had taught evolution, but that the "drugstore conspirators" were too busy drumming up publicity to let that deter them from bringing the trial to Dayton.
He also stated that the defense lawyers had coached the students who gave evidence because, according to Scopes, they would have no idea what they'd learned in class nearly three months after the event!

Part 2 - The Appeal

When the case went to appeal before the Tennessee Supreme Court (commencing May 31st, 1926) they rejected all of the reasons offered by Scopes' lawyers for contesting the "guilty" verdict, but ruled that it was wrong for the judge to have set the amount of the fine and reversed the decision (January 17th, 1927).
It is worth noting that this was a majority decision - 3 for, 1 dissenting.  (Normally there would have been 5 judges involved in the voting, but Judge Swiggart had been appointed after the appeal hearing, so didn't take part.)
On this basis Scopes had not been found "guilty", and therefore didn't have to pay the $100 fine.  On the other hand he hadn't been found "not guilty" either, so he could, in theory, have been tried all over again on exactly the same charge.  On the Court's advice, however, Attorney-General Frank M. Thompson, who was appearing with Ed. T. Seay and K.T. McConnico for the defense (that is - Scopes was now the plaintiff!), took the court's advice and entered a "nolle prosequi", meanining (in Latin/legalese) that he was giving notice that the prosecution no longer wished to proceed with the case.
Part 10:   The Appeal for more details of the Supreme Court's rulings on the various points raised by Scopes' lawyers.)

What Happened After the Trial?

Bryan, who had been a diabetic for a number of years, died in his sleep on the afternoon of July 26th, the first Sunday following the end of the Scopes Trial.  It was not the end of the connection between Bryan and Dayton, however.  In August 1930 Time magazine noted that the newly chartered William Jennings Bryan University in Dayton would initially hold its classes at the Rhea County High School until its own buildings were ready for use.

Clarence Darrow, already in his late 60's when he took part in the Scopes Trial, continued to practice law for a few years more, then retired in 1928, and died in 1938.

John Scopes who already had a B.A. degree from the University of Kentucky (majoring in law), benefitted from a fund set up by some of the defense team's expert witnesses which allowed him to return to university - this time to study for a Ph.D. degree in geology, at the University of Chicago.  Unfortunately the fundraisers weren't as enthusiastic as they might have been, and only provided financial coverage for part of the two year course.  At first it seemed that the costs of the remaining time would be covered by a scholarship, but this fell through and rather than taking a degree Scopes found himself in Venezuela as an employee of Gulf Oil.  He remained with Gulf for some years, until he was "let go" after refusing to cross the border between Venezuela and Columbia in order to carry out an illegal survey.  He subsequently became an "oil scout" with the United Gas Corporation for some ten months, before being transferred to the general office, where he remained until his retirement in 1964.

In 1930, Scopes married Mildred Walker in a Roman Catholic church, but says in his autobiography that he did this simply to please his wife.  So although he 'took instruction' in principles of the Roman Catholic faith and was baptized prior to the marriage, it seems there was never any question of Scopes genuinely "converting" to Roman Catholicism.
Scopes co-wrote his autobigraphy, Center of the Storm in 1967, and died in 1970. . He was buried in Oak Grove Cemetary in the town of Paducah, Kentucky..

The Butler Act, was never invoked again.  Nevertheless, in February, 1937, the citizens of Tennessee voted to retain the Act and it stayed on the Tennessee statute book for another 30 years.  The repeal was signed on May 17th, 1967, and came into effect on September 1st of that year.

What were the Long-term Effects?

Although some commentators have argued that the trial marked the end of the anti-evolutionism in schools, the fact is that the subject, and even the word "evolution", disappeared from most of the leading biology textbooks over the next few years, a situation that persisted until the early 1960's.

Having said that, the Scopes trial itself probably didn't make a lot of difference to anything.  It was more of a demonstration of a process that was already well under way, and which is arguably still in progress.
The way that people have formulated accounts of the Scopes trial to suit their own ends, on the other hand, has definitely had an on-going and wide-ranging effect.
This topic is dealt with in more detail in
Part 13 (in preparation).

The Scopes "Monkey" Trial Site Map

A brief description of the Scopes Trial - the original proceedings, the effective fictionalising of the event in F.L. Allen's book Only Yesterday, and the confusion surrounding the play Inherit the Wind.  Also a short biography of the author and a list of relevant resources.

Part 1: Summary
A short history of the events leading up to the Scopes Trial, the trial itself, and what happened afterwards.  Includes lists of the lawyers, witnesses, jurors, etc. involved in the Scopes Trial.  Explains why it was called the "Monkey" trial.

Part 2: Inherit the Wind
Looks at the real story behind the writing of the play Inherit the Wind, and some of the key differences between the play and the actual trial.  Explains where the title came from, and what it signifies.

Part 3: A Cult of Misinformation
The Scopes Trial has been the subject of a mountain of misinformation from the time of the trial through to the present day.  The members of this "cult" include not just journalists and authors but also lawyers, university professors, the Encyclopaedia Britannica and even the Library of Congress.  This section shows why the real life events are so widely misunderstood today.

Part 4: How it Began
Discusses the Butler Act (the basis for the charge against John Scopes), the action of the ACLU, the "Drugstore Conspiracy" which led to the trial being staged in Dayton, and how the two sets of lawyers were selected - or in some cases selected themselves.  This section includes the names of all of the lawyers on both sides.

Part 5: The Experts - and Others
Details of the expert witnesses due to give evidence for the defense - and two potential witnesses, one of whom did make an appearance (Piltdown Man), and one who didn't (Nebraska Man).

Part 6: The Expert Evidence
Arthur Hays claimed that the expert witnesses would deal only in "facts."  This section discusses specific items of "expert testimony" in the light of that claim and subsequent discoveries.

Part 7: Hunter's Civic Biology
Details of the true nature of the contents of Hunter's textbook A Civic Biology.

Part 8: The Trial - Part 1     In preparation
A timeline of the main events of the trial on a day-by-day basis.

Part 9: The Trial - Part 2
A detailed evaluation of the confrontation between Darrow and Bryan on the afternoon of day 7, with numerous quotes from the trial transcript and elsewhere.

Part 10: The Appeal
Many people know that the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the original result of the trial, but why?  Was John Scopes found "not guilty"?  What reasons did the Supreme Court give for their decision?
And what the heck is a nolle prosequi anyway?

Part 11: Was Scopes Guilty?
Another remarkable feature of the Scopes Trial was the number of lies involved - the biggest of which centers on the likelihood that the defense lawyers deliberately concealed the fact that Scopes was genuinely "not guilty."

Part 12: 80 Years of Evolution and Species
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
In Part 6 we looked at the kind of "evidence" offered by the expert witnesses.  In this section we look specifically at the meaning of terms such as "evolution" and "species" in 1925 and 2006.

Part 13: Education After the Scopes Trial
This section describes what happened to the teaching of evolutionary theory in American schools after the trial; and what Americans believe about the teaching of evolutionism and creationism today.
Also, the shock results of a poll in the UK.

Part 14: Clarence Darrow - Attorney for the Damned?
Whilst the ACLU triggered the Scopes Trial, and the "drugstore conspirators" brought it to Dayton, the guiding force behind the events during the trial itself was Clarence Darrow.  This section looks at what motivated Darrow to essentially hi-jack the ACLU campaign and use it for his own ends.

Part 15: The Significance of the Scopes Trial
This section considers some of the many clashes in American society in the 1920s and considers whether they were genuine clashes, and if they were, what influence the Scopes Trial had an on any of them.
It also reveals what will be, for many people, surprising new information about the role of the University of Chicago in American culture at that time discovered by Professor of the History of Science, Edward Davis.

Part 16: The Play, the Movie and the Trial
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
A detailed examination of the differences between the play and first film version of Inherit the Wind, and the real life Scopes Trial.

Part 20: Links and Resources
A list of websites and books related to the Scopes Trial, including the trial transcript and the script of Inherit the Wind.

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