Smithsonian Releases New and Rare Photos of the Scopes Trial

Smithsonian Institution Archives Posts Witness Photos to Flickr Commons
July 11, 2011
News Release

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Dubbed “The Trial of the Century,” the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes trial of July 1925 convicted Scopes for violating a state law prohibiting teaching the theory of evolution and engaged the United States in a debate over the mixture of religion and science in public schools. In honor of the famous trial’s anniversary, the Smithsonian Institution Archives has released a new set of 25 portraits of scientists who agreed to testify on behalf of the defense from the Archives’ Science Service collections. These rarely seen photos, which are assembled together for the first time on the Web, are free and available to researchers and the public on the “Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes Trial Photographs” set on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons (

These photos are added to a series of rare, previously unpublished photographs of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons, which were discovered by Marcel C. LaFollette, an independent scholar, historian and Smithsonian volunteer, in 2005. Most of these Science Service collection ( photographs—both the images documenting the trial and the newly added witness portraits—were taken by Watson Davis, managing editor of the syndicated news service Science Service, while he was in Dayton, Tenn., June 4–5, 1925, and July 10–22, 1925. LaFollette identified and dated each of these images and has published a book highlighting new information derived from images of the trial titled, Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century (University Press of Kansas, 2008).

In addition to adding the new witness photos to the Flickr Commons, LaFollette and other Archives staff will blog about the history behind these unique images during the trial’s July anniversary on the Archives’ blog, The Bigger Picture (

Among the photos in the “Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes Trial Photographs” set are also 10 photos of the trial donated to the Archives by Henrietta Silverman Jenrette; they were added to the Smithsonian Flickr Commons in 2010. Jenrette’s father, William Silverman, attended the trial with his high school biology teacher and took snapshots while he was there. Jenrette said she donated these photos to the Archives because “I appreciate that the Smithsonian has its photos online for all to see.”

By assembling images of the Scopes trial along with the new images of trial witnesses all together on the Fickr Commons, the Archives hopes to create an easily accessible resource about this important event in the American experience. “The goal for the Smithsonian Archives participating in the Flickr Commons is to make these culturally significant documents and images more accessible to the public,” said Effie Kapsalis, the head of the Archives’ Web and New Media team. “We have greatly appreciated the enthusiasm from the visitors we have connected with and the information and insights they lend to the collections.”

About the Smithsonian Institution Archives

The Smithsonian Institution Archives captures, preserves and makes available to the public the history of Smithsonian. From its inception in 1846 to the present, the records of the history of the Institution—its people, its programs, its research and its stories—have been gathered, organized and disseminated so that everyone can learn about the Smithsonian. The history of the Smithsonian is a vital part of American history, of scientific exploration and of international cultural understanding. Learn more about the Archives at

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Effie Kapsalis

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Riccardo Ferrante