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From “Mockingbird”: Women were not given the right to vote in Alabama until 1953, not on juries until 1967




… “too weak to serve on juries”


I still teach students about the classical novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” despite some states banning the novel. Many high school in the U.S. still require it, and among the student I tutor, I usually have 10 to 15 who are reading the novel. It is a delightful exploration on the bias and racism in the United States and opens the eyes of young people to those dastardly acts.


One of the points that I have to make for the students in that the juries at that time, 1935, were all-white and that segregation was still the rule in the schools of the south.

However, another question was raised by a young woman: Why were no women on the juries?


I pointed out that women were granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, and they started in 1920. Why not in Alabama?


It was an insightful question. My answer was that women were also banned from juries as were blacks. However, it forced me to do some research. When did women finally received the right to serve on juries?


Here is the basic truth. Alabama did not ratify the 19th Amendment until the 1950s.


Unbelievable numbers — or are they?


In the novel, a black man was convicted of raping a white woman despite not having the ability to do so. The jury was all-white and convicted him, and the children of Attorney Atticus Finch, who are the protagonists in the novel, were mortified. They could not believe that the people who lived in their small community were so biased.


Alabama voted against ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919 and did not officially endorse suffrage for women until 1953. Similarly, Alabama statutorily barred women from serving on juries until 1967.


For centuries, state laws barred women from jury service on the theory that women were too fragile to participate in public life and needed protection from the “indecent” aspects of criminal trials.


Three states—Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina—statutorily barred women from serving on juries well into the 1960s


Gender-based jury exclusion, Equal Justice Exclusion Reports.


Here is the text of that decision,


“Criminal court trials often involve testimony of the foulest kind, and they sometimes require consideration of indecent conduct, the use of filthy and loathsome words, references to intimate sex relationships, and other elements that would prove humiliating, embarrassing and degrading to a lady.”;


William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England Volume 2

(San Francisco: 1916), 1962

Yes, women at one time were considered to be too weak to serve on juries. Seriously.

Of course, the geniuses known as our Founding Fathers did not grant women the right to vote for more than 130 years. Remember that when men extol the genius of our Fathers.


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