A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a clipping that revealed Columbia County was the home of the first woman elected to office in Georgia.
Thanks to another lucky find last week, it seems the first woman in Georgia to ever serve on a jury also took place right here in Columbia County.
In that election story, a Nov. 3, 1920 article in The Augusta Chronicle noted the election of Mrs. Overton McDaniel (whose first name I have since completely forgotten, unfortunately) as Columbia County tax collector.
McDaniel first was appointed to fill the term of her then-recently elected husband after he died in office, and then ran for the seat in a special election – even though she wasn’t yet, as a female, eligible to vote in the election.
One of her three opponents challenged her right to run, and Georgia’s attorney general ruled in her favor. McDaniel then won the election, and the distinction as the first woman elected to office in Georgia.
Two years later, Viola Napier of Bibb County was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, and thus became known as the first woman elected to a state office in Georgia. But Overton – and Columbia County – maintain the distinction of the first woman elected to office in the state, period.
Now, what’s this thing about the first woman juror? Well, recently I wrote about speaking at the historic Appling Courthouse to the current Leadership Columbia County class, and Helen Pollard noticed.
She’s the wife of G.B. “Jake” Pollard Jr., the former state senator who, following in his father’s footsteps, was the longtime clerk of court for Columbia County. Mrs. Pollard read that column, and sent me a clipping from a Sept. 26, 1924 edition of The Chronicle that she had found in her mother-in-law’s old house.
The story is headlined, “Judge A.L. Franklin employs unique method in case of Bronco Billy Verne.” The trial of Bronco Billy, “a wandering showman and Cherokee Indian,” took place in the Appling courthouse that year. Bronco Billy was convicted of bigamy, and Judge Franklin sentenced him “to serve eight years at the State Farm at Milledgeville.”
Apparently there was considerable community outcry as a result. “Many complaints had been registered with the presiding judge that the sentence imposed was unusually heavy in that particular case.”
Evidently Bronco Billy was a sympathetic figure, as well as the victim of bad legal advice. So Judge Franklin took the unusual step of empaneling a jury to second-guess his sentence.
That jury was made up of Judge Levi Pollard and four women, and they voted by secret ballot in favor of a shorter sentence. Judge Franklin then “complied with the wishes of the people and altered his initial sentence in Bronco Billy’s favor.”
He wasn’t too lenient, though; he cut the sentence down to three to six years. (Current law prescribes a sentence of up to five years per count for bigamy.)
However, the story also notes that Judge Franklin’s unusual act “marked the first instance wherein a woman was called on for jury service in this state.” And it happened right here in Columbia County.
And you thought we were only about new stuff ’round here.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.
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