The sheriff Henry Peters and the county attorney George Henderson arrive with the witness Lewis Hale, Mrs. Peters, and Mrs. Hale at John Wright's farmhouse, where the police are investigating Wright's murder. Lewis Hale recounts how he discovered Mrs. Wright acting bizarrely, as she told him that her husband was murdered while she was sleeping. Although a gun had been in the house, Wright was gruesomely strangled with a rope. The men continually disparage the women for worrying about trifles instead of about the case, but Henderson allows the women to collect some items for Mrs. Wright, who is in custody, as long as he agrees that the objects are irrelevant to the case.
While the men are investigating upstairs, Mrs. Hale reminisces about how happy Mrs. Wright had been before her marriage, and she regrets that she had not come to visit Mrs. Wright despite suspecting the unhappiness she had suffered as John Wright's wife. After looking around the room, the women discover a quilt and decide to bring it with them, although the men tease them for pondering about the quilt as they briefly enter the room before going to inspect the barn. Meanwhile, the women discover an empty birdcage and eventually find the dead bird in a box in Mrs. Wright's sewing basket while they are searching for materials for the quilt. The bird has been strangled in the same manner as John Wright. Although Mrs. Peters is hesitant to flout the men, who are only following the law, she and Mrs. Hale decide to hide the evidence, and the men are unable to find any clinching evidence that will prevent her from being acquitted by a future jury - which will, the play implies, most likely prove sympathetic to women.