9.2.3 Rocky Mountains (1900-1930): Coping with Diversity

Blacks, Women and Mormons in the Early 20th-Century Rockies

Toncray v. Budge – Idaho, 1908 (95 P. 26); Rose v. Sullivan – Montana, 1919 (185 P. 562); Darius v. Apostolos – Colorado, 1919 (190 P. 510); Jones v. Newlon – Colorado, 1927 (253 P. 386)

  • During the early 20th century the Rocky Mountain states remained relatively sympathetic to broad civil rights for blacks and women, and they were likewise tolerant of Mormons once the Church renounced polygamy and any ambition to control government in Utah and elsewhere.  In Toncray, an unsuccessful opponent challenged future Idaho supreme court justice Alfred Budge’s election to a district judgeship, claiming that state law barred practicing Mormons from holding office.  Idaho’s supreme court held the law was not that broad.  It noted that in the 1890s the federal government had given amnesty and Idaho had extended suffrage to Mormons who renounced polygamy and theocracy, and it held that Budge could not be penalized merely because some members of his faith still subscribed to such beliefs. 
  • In Rose, decided two years after Montana became the first state to elect a woman to Congress (Jeannette Rankin), Montana’s supreme court held that even though an 1891 law provided that only males could serve in certain local government positions, the state’s adoption of woman suffrage in 1914 had effectively extended officeholding rights to women as well.   And in Colorado, the only Rocky Mountain state with a significant black population, the supreme court continued to support civil rights.  In Apostolos, it interpreted the state’s accommodations law liberally to include bootblack stands, and in Jones the court put teeth in the law by holding that Denver’s schools were required not only to open their classrooms but also school social events to pupils of all races – this in an age when social mixing among blacks and whites was still rare.      

School prayer

People ex rel. Vollmar v. Stanley – Colorado, 1927 (255 P. 610)

  • Beginning in the mid-19th century, conflicts arose in many states between early settlers (often of old American stock), who created public schools and made education a constitutional right in order to assimilate immigrant children and inculcate old-stock values in them, and immigrant parents who wished to preserve their religious and cultural traditions.  Most old-stock Americans supported daily readings from the King James version of the Bible (the leading Protestant translation) in the public schools, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s this practice was challenged by a number of immigrant Catholic and Jewish parents. 
  • Most courts that addressed the issue held that “sectarian” portions of the Bible could not be taught because that would violate constitutional restrictions on establishment of religion, but that portions of the Bible reflecting universal truths could be used in schools (see §§ __). 
    In Vollmar, Colorado followed the same rule.  It also held that children who objected even to non-sectarian readings would not be required to attend, but rejected an argument that readings should be eliminated altogether because children who did not wish to participate would be taunted by their schoolmates.  Colorado, like most states, was comfortable with a mixed system that made concessions both to religious sentiment and to religious freedom.   



Davis v. Walton – Utah, 1929 (276 P. 921); State v. Troutman – Idaho, 1931 (299 P. 668)

  • Many Americans developed a general fear of change as the simpler, agrarian world of the19th century disappeared and it was apparent that the world to follow would be complex and diverse.  One of the uglier offshoots of this generalized fear was a feeling that those with mental and other disabilities were preventing the United States from achieving its full potential.  That feeling triggered a “eugenics” movement which persuaded many states to enact compulsory sterilization laws. 
  • Rocky Mountain states enacted eugenics laws, with few of the qualms that some Eastern states expressed over such laws (see §§ ____).  Their lack of qualms perhaps was due to the fact that they provided extensive procedural safeguards to sterilization candidates (such as the right to a hearing and a lawyer) that had been missing from some early Eastern laws (see § __).  In Davis and Troutman, the Utah and Idaho supreme courts rejected arguments that their states’ eugenics laws did not provide sufficient safeguards.  The courts were unimpressed by opponents’ moral objection to sterilization:  with procedural safeguards in place, they regarded the laws as an appropriate exercise of states’ police power.































“The right of the parents to select, within limits, what their children shall learn, is one of the liberties guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment … [but] I am reluctant to say that the Bible is good, and in the same breath declare that, if you do not agree with us, you may exercise an option to the contrary.  It promotes disorder and confusion.” – Justice _, in Vollmar









“In the main the argument harks back to the ancient exterminations of the physical defectives by certain governments.  It is feared this law is an opening wedge for such tyrannies. … The record before us and the recognized authorities on the scientific questions involved leave no doubt in our minds that heredity plays a controlling part in the blight of feeble-mindedness.  If there be any natural right for natively mental defectives to beget children, that right must give way to the police power of the state in protecting the common welfare, so far as it can be protected, against this hereditary type of feeble-mindedness.” – Justice _, in Troutman