21 March 1925

The Butler Act prohibits the teaching of human evolution in Tennessee.

Evolution became a subject of bitter debate—and litigation—in the US as it slowly crept into science textbooks. By the 1920s, groups whose faith led them to understand the Bible as a literal account of events took their objections to Darwin’s theory to state legislatures in an effort to limit or ban school instruction in evolution. Traditionally, curriculum in the US was decided by each school district; there was no national requirement. Thus, teaching practices varied widely from state to state, as well as within state boundaries.

John Scopes in 1925.

In 1925, Tennessee became the first state to ban the teaching of evolution entirely from public school science classrooms. The Tennessee Anti-Evolution Act, also known as the Butler Act after the legislator who wrote it, proscribed teaching “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and [teaching] instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Eager to test the law’s constitutionality in court, the American Civil Liberties Union recruited a 24-year-old teacher named John Thomas Scopes to be indicted for violating the law. The trial of Tennessee v. John Scopes, which journalist H.L. Mencken famously dubbed the “Monkey Trial,” began in May 1925.

Defense lawyer Clarence Darrow hoped to convince the judge to find the Butler Act unconstitutional according to the “establishment clause” of the First Amendment, which stated that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Instead, a jury convicted Scopes of violating the Butler Act on July 21, 1925; Judge John Raulston fined him $100.

Other states meanwhile instituted similar bans on teaching evolution. The subject did not reappear in the courts for decades: Textbook publishers sidestepped the issue by leaving evolution mostly out of biology books. But a wave of court cases in the 1960s and ‘70s affirmed evolution’s place in public schools. In 1968, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas struck down evolution-banning statutes nationwide, declaring them “products of fundamentalist sectarian conviction.”

The 1970s saw the emergence of “creation science,” whose proponents claimed that scientific evidence supported the Bible’s account of creation. As a scientific theory that competed with evolution, they argued, creation science deserved a place alongside evolution in science curricula. Creation science advocates promoted laws mandating equal time in science classes for creation science and evolution—and were successful in at least 23 states. In 1987, the Supreme Court in the case Edwards v. Aguillard banned these laws, too, as an unconstitutional promotion of religion.

3 January 1925

Benito Mussolini takes dictatorial powers over Italy.

Benito Mussolini served as Italy’s 40th Prime Minister from 1922 until 1943. He is considered a central figure in the creation of fascism and was both an influence on and close ally of Adolf Hitler during World War II.

In 1943, Mussolini was replaced as Prime Minister and served as the head of the Italian Social Republic until his capture and execution by Italian partisans in 1945.

Dates: July 29, 1883 – April 28, 1945

Also Known As: Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, Il Duce

Benito Mussolini was born in Predappio, a hamlet above Verano di Costa in northern Italy. Mussolini’s father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith and an ardent socialist who scorned religion. His mother, Rosa Maltoni, was an elementary school teacher and a very pious, devout Catholic.

Mussolini had two younger siblings: a brother (Arnaldo) and a sister (Edvidge).

While growing up, Mussolini proved to be a difficult child. He was disobedient and had a quick temper. Twice he was expelled from school for assaulting fellow students with a penknife.

Despite all the trouble he caused at school, Mussolini still managed to obtain a diploma and then, a little surprisingly, Mussolini worked for a short time as a school teacher.

Looking for better job opportunities, Mussolini moved to Switzerland in July 1902.

In Switzerland, Mussolini worked at a variety of odd jobs and spent his evenings attending local socialist party meetings.

One of those jobs was working as a propagandist for a bricklayer trade union. Mussolini took a very aggressive stance, frequently advocated violence, and urged a general strike to create change.

All of which led to him being arrested several times.

Between his turbulent work at the trade union during the day and his many speeches and discussions with socialists at night, Mussolini soon made enough of a name for himself in socialist circles that he began writing and editing several socialist newspapers.

In 1904, Mussolini returned to Italy to serve his conscription requirement in Italy’s peace-time army. In 1909, he lived for a short time in Austria working for a trade union. He wrote for a socialist newspaper and his attacks on militarism and nationalism resulted in his expulsion from Austria.

Once again back in Italy, Mussolini continued to advocate for socialism and to develop his skills as an orator. He was forceful and authoritative, and while frequently wrong in his facts, his speeches were always compelling. His views and his oration skills quickly brought him to the attention of his fellow socialists. On December 1, 1912, Mussolini began work as the editor of the Italian Socialist newspaper, Avanti!

After elections were held, Mussolini controlled enough seats in parliament to appoint himself Il Duce (“the leader”) of Italy. On January 3, 1925, with the backing of his Fascist majority, Mussolini declared himself dictator of Italy.

For a decade, Italy prospered in peace. However, Mussolini was intent on turning Italy into an empire and to do that, Italy needed a colony. So, in October 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia. The conquest was brutal.

Other European countries criticized Italy, especially for Italy’s use of mustard gas.

In May 1936, Ethiopia surrendered and Mussolini had his empire.

This was the height of Mussolini’s popularity; it all went downhill from here.