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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - The Scopes Trial

In 1925, Tennessee biology teacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution - a violation of the state’s Butler Act. The trial attracted national attention with live radio coverage (a first for the country) and celebrity lawyers (Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan). In the end, Scopes was found guilty of violating the Butler act and ordered to pay a $100 fine.

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, opposing attorneys in the 1925 Scopes Trial.  Part of the Qwiz5 series by Qwiz Quizbowl Camp, written to help quiz bowl teams power more tossups!

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at five of its most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on the Scopes Trial.


In 1925, the Tennessee state legislature passed the Butler Act which prohibited the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution as an explanation for the origins of man. Seeing it as an opportunity to bring publicity to the town of Dayton, town booster George Rappleyea enlisted substitute biology teacher John Scopes to admit to teaching evolution and serving as a test case.


Clarence Darrow led (along with Dudley Monroe and Arthur Garfield Hays) the defense of John Scopes. Before the Scopes Trial, Darrow had made a name for himself defending labor leaders Eugene Debs and Big Bill Haywood, and most famously in defending the teenage murderers Leopold and Loeb.


William Jennings Bryan led the prosecution of John Scopes. Bryan was a politician and leader of the Populist movement whose delivery of the Cross of Gold speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention made him a household name. He was a three-time nominee for the presidency and later served as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State. An ardent fundamentalist, his friend and rival Clarence Darrow called him to testify for the defense as an expert on the Bible.


Nicknamed the “Sage of Baltimore”, H.L. Mencken was a journalist, literary critic, and founder of the magazine The American Mercury. He covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun and famously coined the phrase “Monkey Trial” to refer to it.


In 1955, American playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee fictionalized the Scopes Trial in the play Inherit the Wind as a commentary on McCarthyism. The play (and its film adaptations) have been incredibly popular, shaping much of the public understanding of the Scopes Trial. In the play, the characters Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady are fictionalized versions of Darrow and Bryan, respectively.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

* What happened to John Scopes after the trial? Read more in this piece from the Saturday Evening Post.

* Several of Scopes’s students testified at the trial. Learn more about their story here.

* NPR’s All Things Considered did an episode remembering the Scopes Trial. Read more here, or listen below:

* The State Bar of Georgia (aided by an animated gavel) tells the story of the Scopes Trial in this video:


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