American Culture

Women you’ve probably never heard of – Pulitzer winner Susan Glaspell

This is the beginning of the Wikipedia article on Susan Glaspell:

Susan Keating Glaspell (July 1, 1876 – July 27, 1948) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, actress, novelist, and journalist.

With her husband George Cram Cook she founded the Provincetown Players, the first modern American theater company. During the Great Depression she served in the Works Progress Administration as Midwest Bureau Director of the Federal Theater Project.

A prolific writer, Glaspell is known to have composed nine novels, fifteen plays, over fifty short stories, and one biography. Often set in her native Iowa, these semi-autobiographical tales frequently address contemporary issues, such as gender, ethics, and dissent, while featuring deep, sympathetic characters who make principled stands.

A best-selling author in her own time, Glaspell’s novels and plays fell out of print after her death, during which time she was remembered primarily for discovering Eugene O’Neill. Critical reassessment has led to renewed interest in her career, and she is today recognized as a pioneering feminist writer and America’s first important modern female playwright. Her one-act play Trifles (1916) is frequently cited as one of the greatest works of American theater, though she remains, according to Britain’s leading theatre critic Michael Billington, “American drama’s best kept secret.”

Glaspell is best remembered for her short story “A Jury of Her Peers” (read the whole thing here), which also became a play called “Trifles.”. The story happens the day after a man has been murdered in his bed and his wife is the prime suspect. Three men go to the farmhouse to investigate, accompanied by two of their wives. The women notice things in the home that the men do not, things related to “women’s work” in a farmhouse – chores only half done, a block of quilting that, unlike the other neatly stitched ones, is stitched so erratically that the women know it signals distress. At a time when women could not vote or serve on juries, the two women in the story find what they believe are signs of abuse at the hands of the murdered husband. They say nothing to the men and even hide evidence. The story is considered part of early feminist literature because the women, who can not serve on official juries, function as their own unofficial one, hence the title “A Jury of Her Peers.”

Read a great little analysis of the story here.

Trivia question: When did the federal government mandate that all states allow women to serve on juries?

Answer: 1968, the year I was born


2 replies »

  1. Depends on how old you are whether she’s been heard of or not. Taught her wonderful “Trifles” a number of times. Then it disappeared from lit books – ironically, to make room for underrepresented authors – a noble aim, to be sure, but maybe we could have lost a couple of other writers whose contributions, in the long view, might not be up to hers?

    Ah, well…thanks for bringing her to everyone’s attention ceejay.