Tomorrow, June 11, the library welcomes Todd Hatton, historian and WKMS host, for his presentation on John Scopes entitled “I Am John Scopes,” to be held in the 2nd floor meeting room at 7 PM. All are welcome!
Tonight, however, we talk about another member of the Scopes’ family, John’s youngest sister, Lela.
As you likely know, Paducah-born John Scopes was a teacher who was charged with teaching evolution in his classroom. He was ultimately tried in court (in the infamously dubbed Scopes Monkey Trial) and found guilty. He was fined $100.
But Scopes wasn’t the only teacher in his family and he wasn’t the only one persecuted for a belief in evolution. Enter Lela V. Scopes, John’s youngest sister, a math teacher just graduating from the University of Kentucky. Unlike her brother who was teaching in Tennessee, Lela Scopes looked to stay in the state and return to her hometown of Paducah, specifically to teach in Augusta Tilghman High School where she’d sent in an application. Scopes had worked at Tilghman previously, teaching math for two years while working on her degree and received nothing but accolades from the board for her efforts.
With the onset of her brother’s trial, Lela Scopes was called into the office of the superintendent of schools, L.J. Hanifan, and then reportedly asked point blank if she would “repudiate the stand taken on evolution by her brother.” Lela Scopes emphatically refused to do so, stating that she sympathized with the stance. Hanifan then informed her that her application to teach at Tilghman was refused. Schoolboard member A. Bennett further clarified to the Paducah News Democrat “it was the sense of the board that Miss Scopes would not be desirable on the High school faculty because, like her brother, she believed wholeheartedly in the evolutionary concept.”
The trial of John Scopes was far reaching; its themes and outcomes are still relevant in schools today. For all his attention, however, Scopes was never fired from teaching. His employment contract in Tennessee was renewed and he later accepted scholarships to study geology. In fact, John Scopes never had to pay his $100 fine from the trial; it was excused on a technicality.
Thus, with regards to the Scopes Trial, it may not have been John Scopes who experienced the most immediate effects after all, but rather his sister. The story of Lela Scopes was picked up by news wires and published in papers around the country. And for her part, Lela Scopes’ biggest consternation was that she “could not understand just what her views on evolution had to do with mathematics.”
For much more about John Scopes, come to the program tomorrow at 7 p.m. And for information about anything else, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. We’ll see if we can find you an answer.