Making history in Butler County and Kansas
The first all-woman jury to sit on a district court case in Kansas served in El Dorado. The jury and trial was an event of national interest. Editorials about the woman jury appeared in newspapers all over the United States.
Several states granted women suffrage before 1912, and that was the same year Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party included woman suffrage in their platform.
On Nov. 5, 1912, Kansas voters approved the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution. Kansas became the eighth state to do so. That was eight years before ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote nationwide.
Kansas was ahead of the game.
What happened in El Dorado was undoubtedly seen as extremely progressive.
The man for the job
Judge G. P. Aikman, of El Dorado, had little more than a month to serve in office after equal suffrage was victorious in Kansas in the election of 1912.
"Women became qualified to act as jurors when the new constitutional amendment made them electors," the judge said, "and I desire the honor of presiding over the first trial in which their new rights are exercised."
Granville P. Aikman, judge of the Thirteenth Judicial District, was a leading lawyer of Butler County and recognized throughout the state. His father, William A. Aikman, was a pioneer of Butler County, arriving in 1871 with his wife, Martha, and three children, locating in Benton Township.
After completing his education, Granville entered the law office of Sluss & Hatten and was admitted to the bar. He immediately began to practice law in El Dorado and was soon elected judge of the probate court of Butler County, and has the distinction of being the youngest man ever elected to that position in the county. He served in that capacity for four years. Later Aikman was elected judge of the Thirteenth Judicial District, and was re-elected to that office for two terms, serving 12 years in all.
He was known to have a profound knowledge of the law.
William Allen White said of him, "That his decisions made, necessarily upon the spur of the moment, have been sustained by reviewing courts, after months of close examination and deliberation, prove him to be an able lawyer, as well as a just judge. Few Kansas judges have such a creditable record."
Judge Aikman had the distinction of having written and offered in a Republican state convention, the first resolution endorsing women's suffrage in Kansas. He did this against the advice of many leading Republicans in the state, who opposed the measure and predicted such a course would ruin him politically, but Judge Aikman was dedicated to the cause, presented the resolution and it carried.
Exercising their rights
Soon after the passage of the resolution, the case of H. H. Boeck vs. Carrie M. Schreiber came up for trial on Nov. 27, 1912. Judge Aikman appointed the first woman bailiff in Kansas and the United States – Mrs. Eva Rider, and instructed her to assemble a panel of women. The bailiff and all the jurors were El Dorado women.
The case was intricate, dealing with the valuation of real estate. H.H. Boeck alleged in a transaction with Mrs. Carrie Schreiber, a quarter-section of land in Grove County, which he had bought, had been misrepresented. Mrs. Schreiber having died, the widower, Henry Schreiber, became the defendant.
A year before the same case was tried before a jury of men, who were unable to reach a verdict.
Mrs. Rider was notified first as a juror. Mrs. Hattie E. Riley Ritcherdson, the oldest member, became forewoman of the jury. Then were assembled Mrs. Maggie Clark, Mrs. Anna Ruddick, Mrs. Clara Willis, all W. C. T. U. workers; Mrs. Geneva Selig; Mrs. Frances Boston, who was reported to be the first woman in El Dorado to drive a car; Mrs. Blanche Cron; Mrs. Genevieve Munson; Mrs. Rachel Stewart, leader Women's Rights Congress; Mrs. Esther Kirkpatrick, vice president general, N. S., D. A. R. from Kansas; Mrs. Agnes Foulks; Mrs. Nannie Elson; and Miss Edna Smith. The first-named 12 served; Miss Smith gave as a reason for seeking release from jury service that she did not believe in woman's suffrage, did not believe women should vote and did not approve of their acting on juries; the judge excused her.
The first act of the woman jury on entering the box was to ask for removal of their male predecessors' cuspidors.
After two days of testimony and arguments, the case was given to the jury on the night of Nov. 29. Before beginning deliberations, one of the members offered a prayer for divine guidance. Only four ballots were taken; the first vote was 9 to 3 for the plaintiff, second was the same, the third was 11 to 1 and the fourth was unanimous. At 11 p.m. the jury gave its verdict – a judgment of $1,200 for Mr. Boeck, the plaintiff. After dismissal, each juror was given a voucher for $4 and informed if the jury had stayed out one hour longer, each would have received an additional $2. "We knew that," said Mrs. Foulks, "but we were not in it for the money."
"No jury ever showed keener appreciation of its responsibility," Judge Aikman said, and the court stenographer, J. F. Darby, said the women followed the evidence with closer interest than any jury of men he had ever observed.
In contrast to the progressive advancement of equality in Kansas, the state of Georgia did not grant women jury rights until Dec. 21, 1953, following a long state house battle.
Judge Aikman and the the 1912 case of H.H. Boeck vs. Schreiber in El Dorado brought to the forefront that women were qualified and deserving to serve on a jury.
History of Butler County Kansas, by Vol. P. Mooney
Kansas Genealogy Trails Butler County, Kansas
The Kansas City Star, Aug. 11, 1957, The Kansas City Star archives, www.aclu.org/blog of rights
The New York Times, Dec. 2, 1912, The New York Times archives, Ancestry.com