1939 Letter to Maude Thomison from W.A. "Mac" McDonald

A letter written in 1939 to Maude Thomison, daughter of Dr. Walter F. Thomison, by W.A. “Mac” McDonald, a reporter who visited Dayton one behalf of the Boston Evening Transcript during the 1925 Scopes Trial.

Even though it has been ninety-four years since the Scopes Trial was held, memories of it still “linger in the air” around Rhea County! One could hope that people no longer think of us as barefoot and uneducated, but that we have risen to a higher order of thought in the minds of the public. Whether or not this is true, most of us have a friend or family member who was involved directly or indirectly with this event. And, as the hot July days close to the dates of the trial approach, much of Rhea County thinks about events of the Scopes Trial.

Several members of my family were associated with “the trial.” My great grandfather, Dr. Walter F. Thomison, was the attending physician when William Jennings Bryan died. Dr. Walter’s oldest child, Maude, also had some fond memories of the event.

Maude, the oldest child of Dr. Walter Fairfield and Ella Adelia Darwin Thomison, was born in 1891, and died in 1975. She was educated in the private and public schools of Dayton, and also attended Ward’s Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. Maude then graduated from Campbell-Hagermann College in Lexington, Kentucky, and went on to Columbia University in New York, where she studied costume design. In the 1930’s Maude established a hand-knit business and held fashion shows of her designs in Jelleff’s Department Store in Washington, D.C. and a department store in New York City. She was also named as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Women’s Participation to the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

Needless to say, Maude loved clothes and always wanted to see the new styles. So, when the Scopes Trial began, she thought it would give her a chance to see styles from other areas of the country. Therefore, she and her sister, Clara Thomison Brown, walked from their home in South Dayton (formerly Magnolia House) to the Courthouse to view the proceedings. Maude went to see the people and their clothes; Clara went to keep Maude “out of trouble!”

Maude always liked to meet people; she often told me when I was a child that there were many “good-looking” reporters who had come to town to cover the trial for their newspaper. One of the reporters was W. A. Macdonald, who worked for the Boston Evening Transcript in 1925. He later became the Education Editor for The New York Times, and corresponded with Maude for a number of years. Only three of his letters survived over time, the last one being written after the death of her father.

I suppose it would be impossible to think of romance connected with the Scopes Trial, but it seems that a look from Maude that day in the courtroom made Mac (as he signed his letters) notice her! It is interesting to read letters from “famous” people and to find out about their careers. Letters help us to see a picture of life during the time they were written and to gain insight into the person who wrote them. Remember, we need to learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.

Pat Guffey can be reached at pat459@charter.net