Born in Davenport, Iowa in 1882, Susan Glaspell became a journalist for the Des Moines News. In 1900 she was assigned to cover the trial of a farmer’s wife accused of murdering her husband while he slept by hacking him in the head with an ax. During her investigation of this murder and her reporting upon the details of the trial, Glaspell became intrigued with the pre-existing conditions of the accused wife, Margaret Hossack.
The reporter learned that Mrs. Hossack had complained of her husband's abuse to neighbors, but was told to reconcile with her husband and return home. Other reports claimed that shortly before his murder, John Hossack has thrown hot tea on his wife's face.
On the night of the murder, Mrs. Hossack claimed that she had slept so soundly that night that she did not hear a thing. Oddly, too, the family dog did not bark as it normally would whenever someone or something came on the property. When the dog was examined after the murder, it was listless as though it had been given chloroform, the authorities reported. They also observed that John Hossack was fatally wounded on the side of his head and did not die immediately, living for hours before his death early in the morning.
Mrs. Hossack professed her innocence until she died; however, of note, is the fact that all nine of her children supported their mother before, during, and after the trial. This support is rather puzzling since some of the boys were sleeping in an adjoining room that an intruder would have had to walk through to get to the room where Mr. and Mrs. Hossack slept on the first floor of the house. When she was convicted and given a life sentence, Mrs. Hossack said,
Sheriff Hodson, tell my children not to weep for me. I am innocent of the horrible murder of my husband. Some day people will know I am not guilty of that terrible crime.
The Des Moines newspaper article on her trial concluded,
It is universally believed at Indianola that if Mrs. Hossack did not murder her husband she knows who did.
This true incident on which the young reporter wrote fifteen years later became the basis for Glaspell’s short story ‘‘A Jury of Her Peers’’ and her one-act play Trifles.