Alison’s House, by Susan Glaspell, was first produced off-Broadway at the Civic Repertory Theater in the fall and winter season of 1930. At the heart of this play is a poet, Alison Stanhope, who has been dead eighteen years. Although only a handful of her poems were published during her lifetime, they have captured the attention and affection of people all over the country. Alison’s spirit lives on in the hearts of her family and her fans. Alison’s House is about the poet’s family, their relationships, and the discovery of a portfolio containing hundreds of previously unknown poems by Alison.
Glaspell wanted to write her play about enigmatic New England poet Emily Dickinson, but the Dickinson family refused to give her permission to use their name or to quote from Emily’s poetry. Undaunted, Glaspell moved the setting to her home state of Iowa and recast the Dickinson family as the Stanhopes. Unable to quote Dickinson’s poetry, Glaspell quoted from Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose work was beloved by Dickinson. Emerson’s poem, “The House,” inspired the title of Glaspell’s play.
Glaspell was an established and well-regarded novelist and playwright as well as the cofounder, with her husband George Cram Cook, of the Provincetown Players. When Glaspell wrote Alison’s House, Cook had died, and Glaspell had married writer Norman Matson. Alison’s House won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1931, which was a huge surprise to everyone because it had not been a favorite of critics and audiences. Production of Alison’s House was immediately moved to Broadway where lukewarm reception forced the play to close after two weeks.