Frontier County, Nebraska, disallowed female jurors until 1962 and did not empanel its first female jurors until 1966.
By John F. Hanson
Editor’s note: John F. Hanson, attorney and History Nebraska member, provided the following recollection of a unique event in the history of Frontier County, Nebraska. He wrote the story in May 2015 as a memorial to his late colleague Harold W. Kay, but in the style of a newspaper article from the time.
Stockville, Nebraska, Tuesday, February 1, 1966. Today, forty-six years after the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave women the right to vote, hold public office, and sit on juries, the Frontier County District Court conducted a trial before a jury of eight women and four men. Until 1962 the seating of women on Frontier County juries had been disallowed because of political and technological problems. Today, for the first time in the county’s history, women helped deliberate a legal issue.
The political problem was the possible relocation of the county seat away from Stockville, a tiny village in the center of the county surrounded by three larger towns. Several elections have been held to relocate the courthouse, but none were successful, and during this time it was deemed imprudent to make improvements to the frame building built in 1888-89. After the last such election in 1951, the county seat relocation issue was quietly laid to rest.
The technological problem was that the courthouse had no indoor plumbing. It was served by traditional small buildings out back. This issue led District Judge Charles E. Eldred, who took office in 1919, to make a local rule that women would not be permitted to serve on juries until such time as modern restroom facilities were provided. Because of the previously mentioned political problem, this lack was not addressed until 1962, when modern restrooms for both men and women were built into an addition at the back door of the courthouse. Coincidentally, 1962 was also the year that Stockville became the last county seat in America to be reached by a paved highway.
Once these two problems had been resolved, the court rule was rescinded and it remained only to wait until a jury trial was scheduled, which took four years. That trial, a civil action for damages, was held today and the jury rendered its verdict just before suppertime. The judge was Victor Westermark, who succeeded Judge Eldred in1945. The lawyers were John F. Hanson for the plaintiff and Harold W. Kay for the defendant. A photograph of the jury seated in the jury box is historic because it is the first photograph ever permitted of any aspect of a trial in Frontier County and because it documented the first time in county history that women served as jurors.
Above: The jurors were pictured in the February 10, 1966, issue of the Curtis Hi-Line Enterprise. Front row (l. to r.) Opal Campbell, Beverly Jurgens, Evelyn Parson, Geraldine Magee, Cecil Callen, Metta K. Schultz; back row (l. to r.) Paul Fasse, Irene Bellheim, Eldon Muehling, Velma Romatzke, Arthur Linke, Dan Kahler. Photo courtesy of Steve Kay
Below: Frontier County Courthouse, Stockville, 1970s. History Nebraska FT06-001_H673.5-0006
This story was first published in the Jan-Feb-Mar 2016 issue of Nebraska History News.