Susan Glaspell is most famous for her play Trifles. Those who start reading the short story “A Jury of Her Peers” may experience an episode of déjà vu if they are familiar with that play: this is a prose version of the same events. The short story was originally published in 1917 in the March 5th edition of the magazine Everyweek. The stage version was first performance a year earlier.
The story at the heart of both versions of the narrative derives from yet another type of media: newspaper reportage. When Glaspell had a job as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily, she was assigned to cover the trial of a woman accused of bashing her husband’s head with ax while he slept. The woman claimed not have seen the actual murderer and because the evidence could not pin her down as the killer, she eventually was released.
The driving motivation behind this perhaps unusual but not excessively so bit of jurisprudence was not so much the murder itself, but the fact that women were not allowed to serve on juries in Iowa at the time. And so Glaspell rewrote the narrative so that her version of the possible husband-killer would be tried by a true jury of her peers.