Susan Glaspell Biography

Susan Glaspell Biography

Susan Glaspell is one of the most important female voices in twentieth-century theater. However, several decades ago, the average student might not have known who she was. Glaspell was popular enough during her lifetime to help support herself and her husband as they embarked on their work with the now-famous Provincetown Players. Unfortunately, after her death in the late 1940s, she and her writing fell into relative obscurity. With the rise of feminism and the renewed interest in unsung female voices the movement generated, Glaspell has been restored to her rightful place in the canon. Her most famous play, Trifles, hinges on the discoveries of two women whose understanding of the domestic sphere is overlooked and ignored by the men around them.

Facts and Trivia

  • An Iowa native, Glaspell studied at Drake University in Des Moines, graduating just before 1900.
  • In her youth, Glaspell worked as a journalist while still in Iowa. Her coverage of a local murder trial inspired some of her most famous writing, including the short play Trifles and the story “A Jury of Her Peers.”
  • Following her marriage to George Cram Cook, Glaspell moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts. There, she formed a highly influential theater group, The Provincetown Players, which helped launch the work of playwright Eugene O’Neill.
  • Later in life, Glaspell briefly worked for the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago.
  • In 1931, Glaspell won the Pulitzer Prize for her play Alison’s House.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)
ph_0111226234-Glaspell.jpg Susan Glaspell Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Mystery surrounds the birth date of Susan Glaspell. Both 1876 and 1882 have been given. Glaspell always asserted that the latter date was correct, and it was often used in past studies. Recent evidence suggests, however, that the earlier date is accurate. Why she would deny a linkage to the nation’s centennial and make herself appear younger has never been explained. Susan was born to Elmer S. and Alice Keating Glaspell in Davenport, Iowa. Her father’s family was among the first of the Davenport settlers. Her father was solidly middle class with some affluence, but he was not a wealthy man. Her parents instilled in their daughter a love of the region that she would retain to the end of her life.

Glaspell was educated in the public schools of Davenport. She then went to Des Moines, Iowa, to attend Drake University. She graduated in 1899 with a Ph.B. degree, having studied literature, classics, and the Bible. By all accounts, she was popular; she was also noted for her storytelling abilities and gained experience as a writer. Her first job after graduation was as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News. While there, she met and befriended Lucy Huffaker, who became an influential and lifelong friend.

Glaspell worked at the paper for two years, became expert at political writing, and had her own column, “The News Girl,” which began with political commentary and then strayed to fictional forays and personal observations. The column’s success prompted Glaspell to quit her job at the newspaper in 1901, return to Davenport, and begin earning a living as a freelance writer. The “Freeport” stories, twenty-six in all, based on the city of Davenport, were escapist and romantic works filled with local color and unexpected plot twists.

The turning point in her private...

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Susan Glaspell Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Glaspell was a truly prolific writer. During her lifetime, this remarkable feminist wrote fourteen plays, nine novels, forty-three short stories, numerous essays, a biography, and a children’s tale. Although successful in a variety of literary genres, Glaspell is best known for her dramatic works. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright created a new theatrical voice and dealt with contemporary issues. Glaspell is also remembered as the inspirational force behind the founding of the Provincetown Players and for her continuous encouragement of new playwrights, particularly Eugene O’Neill.

Susan Glaspell Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)
ph_0111207660-Glaspell.jpg Susan Glaspell Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The regional elements in Susan Glaspell’s fiction derive from her midwestern roots. She was born in Davenport, Iowa, and was graduated from Drake University in Des Moines. She began her career as a journalist for local newspapers and later published short stories in popular women’s magazines. Her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered, was published in 1909.

In 1911, she left Iowa for Greenwich Village, New York, and in 1913, she married George Cram Cook. The move and the marriage transformed her life and writing. Under Cook’s influence, she began to experiment with new ideas and literary forms. Glaspell and Cook formed a theater group known as the Provincetown Players. This group provided impetus for Glaspell, along with Eugene O’Neill and other playwrights, to write and direct original dramas.

Glaspell’s themes concern society and the individual; her characters sometimes face isolation. Often her protagonists are women in conflict with the established moral code of their community. Her most successful work, the one-act play Trifles and the short-story version of the same tale, “A Jury of Her Peers,” portrays the plight of Minnie Wright, a woman accused of murdering her husband. While the sheriff and county attorney search for evidence and motive, the sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters, and a neighbor, Mrs. Hale, come to gather “trifles,” articles Mrs. Wright will need in jail. The drama focuses on the women’s ability to identify with the isolation and loneliness that might drive a woman like Minnie to murder her cold, domineering husband. While the lawmen sent to investigate the crime dismiss the women as little more than domestic help, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale manage to discover and purloin evidence that the men overlook.

Glaspell’s plays and novels combine the search for individual identity with the hope that society will advance and evolve. Her humanitarian vision is described in the novel Judd Rankin’s Daughter. The characters envision an altruistic world in which one willingly gives the “shirt off his back” to clothe a needy friend.

Glaspell’s literary works include forty-three short stories, thirteen plays, and ten novels. Glaspell succeeded as a novelist, but her greatest contribution lies in her promotion of the Provincetown Players, which advanced the career of Eugene O’Neill and spurred the development of American drama.

Susan Glaspell Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born July 1, 1876, to Elmer S. and Alice Keating Glaspell, descendants of pioneer settlers, Susan Glaspell grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and attended public schools. She went to Drake University in Des Moines, receiving her B.A. in 1899. While in college, she began writing stories and published her first one in the Davenport Weekly Outlook in 1896. After graduation, she spent two years working for The Des Moines Daily News and other newspapers as a reporter covering the court and legislative beats. She returned in 1901 to Davenport determined to become a writer. Her early stories, published in popular magazines, and her first novel, the best-selling The Glory of the Conquered: The Story of a Great Love (1909), were escapist, romantic, and conventional in form.

In 1907, Glaspell met Floyd Dell, future writer and social critic; George Cram Cook, a socialist writer; and Cook’s feminist wife, Mollie. Cook and Dell established the Monist Society, a discussion group formulated to expose provincialism and to introduce avant-grade ideas to Davenport. Glaspell fell in love with Cook and encountered the disapproval of her friends and family. In 1909, in an attempt to end the affair, she traveled to Europe, using the royalties earned from her first novel.

On returning to the United States, she spent time in Colorado, Davenport, Chicago, and Greenwich Village. She also finished her second novel, The Visioning, which shows Cook’s influence in the seriousness of the issues it introduced—trade unions, evolution, and divorce, to name a few—and began a third, Fidelity (1915), which explores small-town life in the Midwest and examines the limits placed on women by traditional gender roles. In 1912, she published Lifted Masks, a collection of short stories based on her experiences as a reporter. She and Cook, who had divorced his second wife, were married on April 14, 1913, in Weehawken, New Jersey. As a result of being exposed to his ideas, she grew more...

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Susan Glaspell Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Susan Glaspell (GLAS-pehl), dramatist, novelist, and writer of short stories, was born in Davenport, Iowa, on July 1, 1876, the daughter of Elmer and Alice Keating Glaspell. Her forebears were among the earliest settlers of Davenport. She graduated from high school in 1894 and then worked for three years as a reporter for the Davenport Morning Republican and Davenport Weekly Outlook. While at the latter she wrote a “Social Life” column and published her first short story. In 1897 she entered Drake University in Des Moines, where she studied philosophy, excelled in debate, wrote short stories for the college’s The Delphic, and served as literary editor of the school newspaper.

After graduating from college in 1899 Glaspell worked for the Des Moines Daily News and wrote a column there called “The News Girl.” In 1901 she resigned this post to return to Davenport and concentrate on writing fiction. Between 1901 and the mid 1920’s she turned out a number of successful short stories. Many of these contain themes similar to what she had written about in her column. During these years Glaspell also worked briefly in Chicago on the Chicago Daily Review and did graduate work in English at the University of Chicago. In 1909 her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered: The Story of a Great Love, was published and became a best-seller. Other successful novels include Fidelity in 1915, Fugitive’s Return in 1929, Ambrose Holt and Family in 1931, and Judd Rankin’s Daughter in 1945.

In 1912 Lifted Masks appeared, a collection of thirteen of Glaspell’s stories that exemplify her local-color writing. In 1913 Glaspell, then thirty-six, married George Cram Cook, a classics scholar and twice-divorced iconoclast from Davenport. The couple settled in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the summer months and spent their winters in New York City. Cook founded the Provincetown Players in 1915. At the Wharf Theater in Provincetown the group produced Glaspell’s first two plays, the one-act play Suppressed Desires and the one-act play Trifles. Other one-act plays that...

(The entire section is 900 words.)

Susan Glaspell Biography

(Drama for Students)

On July 1, 1882, Susan Glaspell was born in Davenport, Iowa. She excelled in academics as a student, studying Latin and journalism. After...

(The entire section is 402 words.)

Susan Glaspell Biography

(Drama for Students)

Susan Glaspell was born on July 1, 1882, in Davenport, Iowa. She was the middle child and only daughter of Elmer and Alice Feeney Keating...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Susan Glaspell Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Playwright, novelist, and short story writer Susan Glaspell was born July 1,1876, in Davenport, Iowa, though some sources cite her birth year...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

Susan Glaspell Biography

(Drama for Students)

Susan Keating Glaspell was born July 1, 1876, in Davenport, Iowa, to Alice and Elmer Glaspell. Her year of birth is sometimes given as 1882,...

(The entire section is 389 words.)