A Guide to the Jerry R. Tompkins Papers: The Scopes Trial and the Epperson Case Records, 1951-1998
Born in 1931, Jerry R. Tompkins is the son of Robert Alva Tompkins (1899-1997) and Hazel Chase Tompkins (1905-1989) and the nephew of Mary Henrietta Chase (1908-1997) and Frances Tompkins Hall. Tompkins earned a B.A. in political science from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and trained as a Presbyterian minister at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tompkins worked as a Presbyterian Church minister in Louisiana and Arkansas, returning to Austin in 1974. Additionally, he worked as a reporter for Science News and contributed articles, primarily on evolution, to various newspapers and magazines.
While at the First Presbyterian Church of Monticello, Arkansas, Tompkins first met John Thomas Scopes (1900-1970) in 1962. After several interviews and years of correspondence, Tompkins edited a book on the Scopes Trial, entitled D-Days at Dayton: Reflections on the Scopes Trial (1965). In 1925, the state of Tennessee had charged Scopes with violating the state’s Butler Act by teaching evolution at Rhea County High School in Dayton. The trial brought national publicity, as well as numerous reporters and celebrities, to the town. Former U.S. Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan headed the prosecution, while famed lawyer Clarence Darrow represented the defense. Although found guilty, Scopes was not punished as the case had been thrown out on a technicality. The trial led to a more forceful anti-evolution movement, and some other states enacted similar legislation. In fact, Tennessee did not repeal the Butler Act until 1967.
Tompkins’ interest in the teaching of evolution led him to research and write articles on the Epperson Case, known as Epperson v. Arkansas. In Arkansas, a 1928 statute modeled after Tennessee’s Butler Act prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. After the Little Rock Central High School in 1965 approved a new science textbook that included a chapter on evolution, Susan Epperson filed a suit to test the constitutionality of the statute and prevent it from dismissing her for teaching the textbook’s contents. In 1967, the Arkansas Supreme Court left the ban in place. Epperson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1968 overturned the statute on grounds that it aligned too much with a particular religious view.
The Jerry R. Tompkins Papers: The Scopes Trial and Epperson Case Records, 1951-1998, consist of research notes, correspondence, photographs, audiotapes, legal agreements, royalty statements, scrapbooks of evolution articles, articles on evolution in schools, galley proofs, and books, which document Tompkins’ research on the John T. Scopes Trial of 1925 for his book D-Days at Dayton and on the Epperson v. Arkansas case in the late 1960s. The first series on D-Days at Dayton and the Scopes Trial contain correspondence and drafts of the book’s chapters by contributing authors, including John T. Scopes, Lamont C. Cole, Carlyle Marney, the estate of H. L. Mencken, and others. The series also contains correspondence with Louisiana State University (LSU) Press, potential publishers, and other writers on evolution, as well as scrapbooks, books, articles, and pamphlets on the trial and evolution. Additional materials include photographs depicting Scopes and the trial, royalty statements and a book agreement with LSU Press, and galley proofs for the book. The second series on the Susan Epperson Case contains articles on the case and teaching evolution in schools, drafts of articles by Tompkins, correspondence with newspaper and magazine editors, and photographs of Susan Epperson.
Jerry R. Tompkins retains copyright for correspondence, research notes, and drafts he produced during his research on the Scopes Trial and Epperson Case.
Use of photographic negatives requires an appointment; please contact the photos archivist for more information.
Jerry R. Tompkins Papers: The Scopes Trial and the Epperson Case Records, 1951-1998, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Basic processing and cataloging of this collection was supported with funds from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the Briscoe Center’s "History Revealed: Bringing Collections to Light" project, 2009-2011.
Detailed Description of the Papers