Arizona Held A Witchcraft Trial In The '70s
Witch-hunts are still a big deal in modern times. In fact, more people were murdered for being witches in the 20th century than in the three or so centuries we associate with European witch-hunts. But if we restrict our attention to just the US, "witch-hunt" has mostly been just a figure of speech for the last couple hundred years.
Mostly. We still get occasional witchy controversies. Some of you might remember a decade ago, when Joe Biden left his senate seat to become vice president, one candidate to replace him admitted to having "dabbled into witchcraft." She did not win that race. We also, not that long ago, had a case of suspected witchcraft decided by the courts, in what became known as the Flowing Wells Witch Trial.
Flowing Wells High School in Arizona invited a folklore expert to come speak, and this speaker listed some attributes associated with witches. These included blonde hair, dressing in green, and a widow's peak (pop culture hasn't been so great at making these all tropes). Some kids noticed that all of these seemed to describe their teacher, Ann Stewart. Instead of denying being a witch, she just said, "I have the characteristics. What do you think?"
She then taught about witches as part of literature—The Crucible, possibly—and one day even came to class dressed as a witch, when teaching about astrology. Finally, the school fired her. The charge was "teaching about witchcraft (have stated that you are a witch) in such a way that it affects students psychologically," plus four related offenses.
Stewart had tenure, so the firing violated policy. She sued the school, who let the matter reach the trial stage, against the wishes of their attorney. The judge decided in her favor. Unfortunately for our entertainment, the trial just concerned employment law and incorporated very little fire or water. The judge did not even determine for sure whether Stewart was actually a witch.
In fact, no one involved ever said, "Witches aren't real, this is ridiculous." The superintendent claimed not to believe in witches personally, while adding, "but there are things beyond our comprehension, naturally." Stewart, while denying being a witch, did say witches might exist ... and also claimed to have ESP.
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Top image: Saguaro Pictures