John T. Scopes

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John Thomas Scopes
John t scopes.jpg
Scopes in 1925
Born (1900-08-03)August 3, 1900
Paducah, Kentucky
Died October 21, 1970(1970-10-21) (aged 70)
Shreveport, Louisiana
Known for Scopes Monkey Trial
Spouse(s) Mildred

John Thomas Scopes (August 3, 1900 – October 21, 1970) was a teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, who was charged on May 5, 1925 with violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. He was tried in a case known as the Scopes Trial, in which he was found guilty and fined $100.


Scopes was born in 1900 on a farm in Paducah, Kentucky where he was reared before moving to Danville, Illinois as a teenager. In 1917 he moved to Salem, Illinois where he was a member of the class of 1919 at Salem High School.[1] He attended the University of Illinois for a short time before leaving for health reasons. He earned a degree at the University of Kentucky in 1924, with a major in law and a minor in geology.[2] Scopes moved to Dayton where he took a job as the Rhea County High School's football coach and occasionally filled in as a substitute teacher when regular members of the staff were off work.[3]

Scopes's involvement in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial came about after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it would finance a test case challenging the constitutionality of the Butler Act if they could find a Tennessee teacher who was willing to act as a defendant.

A band of businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee, led by engineer and geologist George Rappleyea, saw this as an opportunity to get publicity for their town and they approached Scopes. Rappleyea pointed out that while the Butler Act prohibited the teaching of human evolution, the state required teachers to use the assigned textbook, Hunter's Civic Biology (1914), which included a chapter on evolution. Rappleyea argued that teachers were essentially required to break the law. When asked about the test case, Scopes was initially reluctant to get involved, but after some discussion he told the group gathered in Robinson's Drugstore, "If you can prove that I've taught evolution and that I can qualify as a defendant, then I'll be willing to stand trial."[4]

By the time the trial had begun, the defense team included Clarence Darrow, Dudley Field Malone, John Neal, Arthur Garfield Hays and Frank McElwee. The prosecution team, led by Tom Stewart, included brothers Herbert Hicks and Sue K. Hicks, Wallace Haggard, father and son pairings Ben and J. Gordon McKenzie, and William Jennings Bryan and William Jennings Bryan Jr. Bryan, Senior, had spoken at Scopes' high school commencement[5] and remembered the defendant laughing while he was giving the address to the graduating class six years earlier.

The case ended on July 21, 1925, with a guilty verdict, and Scopes was fined $100. The case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. In a 3-1 decision written by Chief Justice Grafton Green the Butler Act was held to be constitutional, but the court overturned Scopes's conviction because the judge had set the fine instead of the jury. The Butler Act remained in effect until May 18, 1967, when it was repealed by the Tennessee legislature.

Scopes may have actually been innocent of the crime to which his name is inexorably linked. After the trial Scopes admitted to reporter William Kinsey Hutchinson "I didn't violate the law," (DeCamp p. 435) explaining that he had skipped the evolution lesson, and that his lawyers had coached his students to go on the stand; the Dayton businessmen had assumed that he had violated the law. Hutchinson did not file his story until after the Scopes appeal was decided in 1927.

After the trial Scopes accepted a scholarship for graduate study in geology at the University of Chicago. He then did geological field work in Venezuela for Gulf Oil of South America. There he met and married his wife, Mildred, and he was baptized into the Catholic Church. In 1930, he returned to the University of Chicago for a third year of graduate study. After two years without professional employment, he took a position as a geologist with the United Gas Corporation, for which he studied oil reserves. He worked, in Houston, Texas then in Shreveport, Louisiana, until he retired in 1963.[6]

He died on October 21, 1970 in Shreveport, Louisiana at the age of 70.[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Western Kentucky University, MSS 419 SCOPES, John Thomas, 1900-1970, 2013, page 2
  2. ^ Bill J. Leonard, Jill Y. Crainshaw, editors, Encyclopedia of Religious Controversies in the United States, 2012, page 710
  3. ^ John Wilson, Failed Hope: The Story of the Lost Peace, 2012, page 43
  4. ^ Scopes & Presley 1967, p. 60
  5. ^ Paxton, Mark (2013). Media Perspectives on Intelligent Design and Evolution. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood. p. 104. ISBN 978-0313380648. 
  6. ^ Tompkins 1965, pp. 15–16
  7. ^ "Scopes of 'Monkey Trial' Is Dead at 70". New York Times. October 23, 1970. Retrieved 2014-12-05. John T. Scopes, whose teaching of evolution led to the "monkey trial" of 1925, died of cancer yesterday at the age of 70. 
  8. ^ John Thomas Scopes, Sr at Find a Grave


Further reading[edit]