Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Remarkable Susan Glaspell

In my little world of 'found photos', this is one I was so excited to come across.

It is a wonderful photo of Susan Glaspell ( 1876-1948), author of the Pullitzer Prize winning play, Allison's House (Loosely based on the life of Emily Dickinson).

(I do not own the image shown below, but use it only to illustrate this bio sketch of Susan Glaspell.)

Susan was a notable figure on many fronts. A playwright, an actress, and a founder of the Provincetown Players in 1915. Some of her works, especially "Trifles" and "A Jury of her Peers" are still today considered a staple in curricula centered on women's studies, and feminism. Both of these plays hailed back to earlier days when Susan was a reporter for the DesMoines Daily News. It was there she covered the murder trial of John Hossack, a farmer killed with an axe by his wife. It was while engaged in her investigative digging, she began to reflect on male bias and the plight of women. While the wife was convicted of murder, the decision was later overturned in a re-trial, as allegations of the husband's abuse surfaced. Susan later became a member of Heterodoxy, a group of women who began meeting to discuss ways to promote economic, social, political, and professional freedom for women. (1912)

Scribbled notation on the back of the photo puts it at around 1920, because of the note mentioning "The Emperor Jones" by Eugene O'Neill, the play that ostensibly launched O'Neill's career as a playwright. Susan Glaspell, as a founder of the Provincetown Players, was the first one to present a reading of an O'Neill work ( Bound East of Cardiff), and it was the Provincetown Players who brought The Emperor Jones to New York and it's first staging in an off-Broadway theatre.

I know I have said this would be an easy-to-scroll site with scant commentary, so forgive my wordiness here. For more about Susan Glaspell, you can link here to my other site Mything Links, where I try to present an overview of the emergence of Provincetown as an art colony, and Susan's Glaspell's key role in that. You can read "Provincetown, The Portland Gale, And Susan Glaspell", here, at Mything Links.


  1. Sounds like she beat Truman Capote to the punch! Not only did she cover a murder trial ini a small town, but she revealed deeper underlying issues and a context for why something like that could actually happen. What a dynamo. These found photos lead you to many fruitful lives!

  2. Yes, that's exactly right. She actually went to the crime scene, read through all the police records of their investigation, and discovered they actually ignored the kitchen (because it was her 'domain', and they were not interested.) So, they never found the small box with her song bird whose neck had been wrung, nor did they interview a female neighbor who knew the woman, knew her husband had killed the bird, and had a good idea why. Susan found out all about it. The woman aspired to sing, loved to sing, but the husband essentially had forbidden it. She snapped and killed him. The two plays, "Trifles", and "A Jury of her Peers" is Glaspell's retelling of that whole dynamic in fictional terms. She even incorporated the dead song bird into her play.

  3. Fascinating. I am sure she must have been mentioned in the bio I have of Louise Bryant, but so many famous names are mentioned in the book. Queen of Bohemia is discussed in this online bio about Louise. (There is a nude photo of Louise on the sand at Provincetown that I find hard to believe is not a famous image!)

  4. Ooh boy, Lydia, you touch on an interesting connection with respect to Louise Bryant. Yes, both she and Reed were in the Players from the beginning, Reed performed in O'Neill's very first play there. Bound East for Cardiff. And, as perhaps you know, some time later, Louise Bryant and Eugene O'Neill were lovers. Louise may have been in the radical women's group Heterodoxy as well. I don't know that for a fact, but it makes sense because Louise's political leanings would have been very much in keeping with the views of that group.

  5. Lydia, being a fan of Bryant, I am sure you must have seen the film 'Reds' where Warren Beatty plays the part of Reed, and Diane Keaton plays Louise Bryant.