Judicial history exhibit at Supreme Court focuses on early law enforcement and women's rights

3 December 2001

Judicial history exhibit at Supreme Court focuses on early law enforcement and women's rights

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Through December 31, 2001, visitors to the Supreme Court of Missouri can view an exhibit featuring cases that helped shape the history of Missouri and helped mold modern legal concepts. The eight panels are part of "The Verdict of History" exhibit and are on loan to the Court from the Missouri State Archives. The Court selected these panels to educate Missourians about the enduring history of their judicial system.

Part of the exhibit now on display is devoted to vigilante justice in Missouri. In the decades after the Civil War, the state's Ozark backwoods lacked effective law enforcement, so citizens formed neighborhood protection organizations and called themselves "Baldknobbers." The Baldknobbers issued warnings to people they believed violated their moral or social code of conduct. One band of vigilante Baldknobbers went beyond the law, however, when they murdered two men in Christian County. The murders gained national attention, and four of the vigilantes were ordered to hang. They lost their appeal in the Supreme Court of Missouri in Missouri v. Mathews (1887), and their clemency plea failed before Governor David Francis (who incidentally later became an ambassador to the Court of St. James and head of the 1904 World's Fair). Only one of the Baldknobbers, Wiley Mathews, escaped from the law. He reportedly lived out his life in the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, but his three co-defendants were hanged on May 10, 1889.

Another case currently on display involves gender equality, which has been a topic in our law since the early 1900s. In the 1947 case State ex rel. Wood v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court of Missouri struck down a regulation of the St. Louis Board of Education that prohibited married women from being employed or retained as public school teachers. The Court overturned the regulation, holding that it was "unreasonable, arbitrary and illegal."

Other cases in the exhibit pertain to Missouri's territorial history, early commerce and the founding of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. To schedule a guided tour of the exhibit and the 97-year-old Supreme Court Building, visitors should call 573-751-4144. More than 19,000 visitors toured the Court during the last year.