Character Guide

Fictional Characters – In order of appearance

Martin Sullivan’s stance on science and politics is based on a rebellion from a trend that touted biology as the solution to all of American’s problems. Martin represents a younger generation’s preference for detailed, empirical research for which there was some prospect of solution, and scientists’ retreat from public discussions of science and religion.

Will Sullivan (Martin’s father) reflects the Progressive Era’s more leftist campaigns for reforms, and the ties of these reforms to narratives of the past that told a story of constant conflict between science and religion. He is drawn to science as a result of its power to vanquish superstition, but is skeptical of the use of biology to justify the status quo (from scientific racism to eugenics).

Ben Cardiff believes scientists have a moral responsibility to help guide American society and policy, and that they should give no ground to religion or theologians. Most of Cardiff’s statements regarding what biology says about sex differences, federal Indian policy, and the ‘struggle for existence’ are based on the influential writings of the biologist David Starr Jordan, who in turn had a strong influence on policy makers like Senator Albert Johnson.

Pete Harrison’s confrontation with debates over the implications of evolution for orthodox Christian beliefs as an undergraduate is based on the accounts described by Cyril Harris in his book The Religion of Undergraduates (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925).

Phoebe Bartlett is facing the challenge of trying to enter the world of science amid long-standing assumptions that women could not by nature think as objectively or rationally as men. Despite some women’s hope that Darwin’s work would help undermine orthodox Christianity’s justification of gender roles on Biblical grounds, by the 1920s many biologists emphasized physical, mental, and moral differences between men and women that in turn justified traditional gender roles.

Mr. Harrison’s stance is based on the writings of William Jennings Bryan (who began the campaign to get evolution out of American schools) and the secretary of the Anti-Evolution League, T.T. Martin, author of Hell and the High Schools.

Rebecca Shelton’s story is drawn from the experiences of native Puget Sound women  encompassed by Harriet Shelton Dover’s From Tulalip, from the Heart, Katrina Jagodinksi’s Legal Codes and Talking Trees, and Cary Collins’ “A Future with a Past: Hazel Pete, Cultural Identity and the Federal Indian System,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 92(2000): 15-28.

Josiah Gray represents the challenges faced by Christians intent on reconciling the study of natural history, Darwinian theory, and the historically tight ties between natural history and arguments about God’s existence. His thoughts regarding the relationship between Christian belief and evolution are based on the American botanist Asa Gray and British geologist Charles Lyell, who defended Darwin’s work from charges of atheism while struggling with the implications of evolution for the origin of the human mind, morality, and reason.

Helen Gray’s story is based on the challenges faced by women in a society that proscribed strict, traditional gender roles (whether on religious or scientific – or some combination of the two – grounds). Her views of history reflect contemporary debates over the proper grounds of understanding the past, and increasing critiques of triumphant, progressive views of the history of western civilization and the history of science.

Frank Gray represents opposition to how Christian Socialist visions influenced American socialism more than Marx’s vision of class struggle, ultimately undermining more radical calls to action. Frank’s views of these developments, science and his anti-racism are based on the thought of the ‘New Intellectual’ socialists and NCAAP-founder William English Walling.

Key Non-Fiction Characters – in alphabetical order

William Jennings Bryan: Three-time, democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Secretary of State under President Wilson, and supporter of numerous reform movements. In 1921 he launched a campaign to halt the teaching of the evolution of man in American public schools, and, in 1925, served on the prosecution during the Scopes “Monkey” Trial.

William Jennings Bryan

Clarence Darrow: Famous criminal defense lawyer and agnostic who supported a range of causes, including the teaching of evolution. He served on the defense during the Scopes trial, and sparred with Bryan over interpretations of Genesis.


Samuel Henshaw:  Henshaw was an entomologist who served as Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University from 1912 to 1927.


Samuel Henshaw (Left) at the MCZ. Source: The Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

Trevor and Louise Kincaid: Trevor Kincaid was professor of zoology at the University of Washington and a founder of the Friday Harbor Laboratories. He was well known for his work in oyster cultivation, entomology, and fisheries. He married Louise Pennell, who earned a Masters degree in zoology from the UW, in 1917.


Trevor Kincaid (center) and students on Campus Day. Source: Darwin Meisnest Photograph Collection at the University of Washington Library Immediate source: via Wikipedia. Public Domain.