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First All-Woman Jury in California

California's First All-Women's Jury in Los Angeles County, 1911

California's first all-woman jury, 1911. Courtesy of the George Grantham Bain Collection & the Library of Congress.

In 1911, A.A. King, editor of The Watts News, was charged in Los Angeles County for printing obscene and indecent language. King had reprinted the specific words of a Watts city councilman (Watts was an incorporated city at the time) who had earlier visited the newspaper office and unloaded the abusive language at King.

The court decided to seat its first all-woman jury for this trial, making the women the first impaneled all-woman jury in California. Although most American women had to wait yet another eight years before they could vote in national elections, California had just granted the vote in 1911 to women, less than a month before the trial began. The panel was reported to be Carrie A. Ray (forewoman), Mary Bower, Florence Brainard, Eva F. Carolus, Essie Finnecy, Mary J. Hill, A.D. Leavitt, Nellie Moomau, Bertha Scherner, Nancy Steiner, A.H. Trimble and B.G. Wallace. The trial began on November 2, 1911 and drew a lot of local attention. The judge permitted the jurors to wear hats during the first half of the trial day, a common practice for women of the day, but required them to remove any headgear for the second half of the day. He wanted there to be no question that the afternoon panel was the same as the morning panel. After testimony was completed, the jurors did not shy from stating their viewpoint. They deliberated for only 20 minutes before returning their verdict of “not guilty.”

After the trial, Nellie Moomau, the youngest juror at age 22, stated to the Tacoma Times, "Our verdict did not mean that we approved of such language. It meant that we believed the defendant was honest in his endeavor to aid the public when he printed the article.” She went on to say, "It isn't half so shocking to read such language in the privacy of our homes as it is to hear it on the streets."