On This Day in 1925: Monkey Trial begins

Anti-Evolution League, at the Scopes Trial, Dayton Tennessee. From Literary Digest, July 25, 1925.
Read Time: approx. 2:19


“In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called “Monkey Trial” begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.” [History]


“Narrowly, the trial was about challenging a newly passed Tennessee state law against teaching evolution or any other theory denying the biblical account of the creation of man. Broadly, the case reflected a collision of traditional views and values with more modern ones: It was a time of evangelism by figures such as Aimee Semple McPherson and Billy Sunday against forces, including jazz, sexual permissiveness, and racy Hollywood movies, which they thought were undermining the authority of the Bible and Christian morals in society.” [PBS]

The Argument Against

In 1921 “Former congressman and ex-Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan becomes a leader in the anti-evolution movement, delivering speeches entitled “The Menace of Darwinism” and “The Bible and its Enemies.” Bryan declares in one address that “[i]t is better to trust in the Rock of Ages, than to know the age of the rocks; it is better for one to know that he is close to the Heavenly Father, than to know how far the stars in the heavens are apart.” [NOAH ADAMS / NPR]

The Butler Act

“The Butler Act was introduced on Jan. 21, 1925, by John Washington Butler, a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. It passed nearly unanimously in the House, by a vote of 71-6. The Tennessee Senate approved it by nearly as overwhelming a margin, 24-6. The act, itself, was very specific in its prohibition against any public schools in the state teaching evolution, stating:

“… it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” – [Heather Scoville / ThoughtCo]

Searching for Scopes

“The ACLU responded immediately with an offer to defend any teacher prosecuted under the law. John Scopes, a young popular high school science teacher, agreed to stand as defendant in a test case to challenge the law.” [ACLU]

“Scopes agrees, even though he has only taught biology as a substitute teacher and later says he isn’t sure he covered evolution in his classes.” [NOAH ADAMS / NPR]

The Trial

“The trial lasted eight days. John Scopes was found guilty but the verdict was overturned on a technicality.” [Jessie Szalay / Livescience].


“In 1927, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the Monkey Trial verdict on a technicality but left the constitutional issues unresolved until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar Arkansas law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.” [History]

Cover Photo

Anti-Evolution League, at the Scopes Trial, Dayton Tennessee. From Literary Digest, July 25, 1925.