"Trifles" was written in 1916 when Susan Glaspell was 34. How unusual was it for a woman in that era to be a playwright or even to go to college?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The play "Trifles," is based on the true story of a woman in Iowa who killed her husband. Glaspell was a reporter at the time. She was employed with the Des Moines News for three years at the end of the nineteenth century.

Because of Glaspell's extensive exposure in covering the case, she had a particularly close vantage point of the court proceedings, and came to be sympathetic of the accused woman's plight.

Glaspell wrote her first play at the encouragement of her husband: it was an unexpected move on her part. Glaspell, her husband George Cook, and friends put together a theater company. Because of her extensive experience years earlier covering the murder case, Glaspell decided to concentrate her efforts on a play about the murder.

The fact that this was done independently allowed Glaspell to be successful because she did not have to depend on being published or discovered.

In terms of reporting, women found it difficult to break into the journalism field. The fact that Glaspell was writing when the newspaper business was just taking off in the US probably did not make it easier to compete in a profession that was primarily run by men. However, women were pushing to make a place for themselves in print media.  Movies showcasing female reporters brought the idea of women in this career into the twentieth century mainstream.

Female playwrights are said to have been writing in England in the 1660s including Mary Pix.  Writers in general were usually male, but some women experienced success writing with male pen names. One such author was George Sands, a French writer. Online information on female playwrights is scarce.

As far as education, women did not have access to a college education until the  mid-1800s, while men had had the "privilege" many years prior both in Europe, first, and ultimately in the American colonies. Access for women generally became available after the end of the Civil War.

It was not an easy inroad to make: it was especially difficult in the field of medicine. In general, there was a great deal of intellectual snobbery facing women by men who had little faith in a female's mental capabilities.

In 1870 only .7% of the female population went to college. This percentage rose slowly, by 1900 the rate was 2.8% and it was only 7.6% by 1920.


While college would not have been a standard path for women, the road was being forged at the time Gaspell was working as a newspaper reporter.

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