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Transcript of Trifles
“On December 2, 1900, John Hossack was murdered as he slept, his head laid open by blows from an axe. He died nine hours later.
“His 57-year old wife, Margaret, immediately fell under suspicion. Her claim of having slept through the killing, even though she lay next to her husband as he was brutally murdered, was too hard for most to believe.
“Additionally, Margaret and John Hossack's long marriage was known to be an unhappy one. It was later alleged that John Hossack was an abusive husband and father, that he and his wife fought often and earnestly, that he had threatened both her and the children.
“One of the most damning pieces of testimony would come from witnesses who claimed that Margaret Hossack had expressed a desire to see her husband dead.” The Murder The Trial Overturned Infamous “Despite being represented by two prominent Iowa attorneys, Mrs. Hossack was found guilty of First Degree Murder.
“It is noteworthy that all nine of her children supported her completely before, during, and after the trial.
“On April 11, 1901, the jury returned its verdict, and Margaret Hossack was transported by Sheriff Hodson to the Anamosa Penitentiary a week later. Her parting words as she was led away, as reported in a Des Moines newspaper:
"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 newspaper article concluded with:
"It is universally believed at Indianola that if Mrs. Hossack did not murder her husband she knows who did." "Mrs. Hossack's life sentence, however, was overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court a year later.
"Her second trial resulted in a hung jury (the jury favored conviction by a vote of 9-3; however, a jury's verdict must be unanimous).
"Margaret Hossack was freed, never tried again, and died in Indianola, Iowa on August 25, 1916. She never confessed and maintained her innocence until her death." The murder trial of Margaret Hossack attracted widespread attention at the time.
One newspaper reporter, Susan Glaspell, covered the first trial and later wrote a play titled Trifles, and a short story called "A Jury of Her Peers," based on the case.
Additionally, a book by authors Patricia Bryan and Tom Wolf, devoted entirely to the Hossack saga, was released in 2005, "Midnight Assassin." Infamous Born in Davenport, Iowa on July 1, 1876.
Graduated from Drake University in Des Moines in 1899.
Worked as a journalist with the Des Moines Daily News.
The Des Moines Daily News covered the murder of John Hassock in 1900.
According to the authors of Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland: "Although Glaspell had little exposure to criminal law, she initially approached the case like a detective; she personally investigated the murder, visiting the Hossack farmhouse, interviewing the attorneys, and studying the inquest testimony... The case made an indelible impression on Glaspell."
Warren County Iowa America's heartland The U.S. was predominantly rural at the time of the Civil War. The Midwest was no exception, dotted with small farms all across the region.
Prairies cover most of the states west of the Mississippi River.
Religiously, like most of the United States, the Midwest is mostly Christian. Around 50% of the people in the Midwest regularly attend church. Iowa is one of 12 states in America's mid-west.
Indianola is the county seat in Warren County, Iowa.
The court house which tried Margaret Hossack is in Indianola. Susan Glaspell Since the book Middletown appeared in 1929, sociologists have often used Midwestern cities (and the Midwest generally) as "typical" of the entire nation.
In popular tradition the Midwest is conservative, isolationist, Protestant, and "American." 1900 – 1909 “Aughts” The turn of the century decade began one of transition and progress and is considered the first decade of materialism and consumerism.
The Industrial age was in full swing, mass production made prices fall to all time lows.
Still largely a rural society, Americans increasingly moved to the city looking for work, armed with a belief in the possibilities and a strong work ethic.
America saw nearly a half-million immigrants in 1900.
Recent advances included phonographs, light bulbs, typewriters, machine guns, skyscrapers, telegraphs, diesel fuel, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, microphones, and aspirin.
In 1900, a train could bring you the same distance in six days that a covered wagon brought you in six months. Cross-continental travel became easy for almost anyone.
Henry Ford produced the first Model T.
This decade sees the first flight of the Wright brothers.
Attitudes about Women “Mrs. Hossack had shared her marital problems with neighbors. Her disclosures were not well received. She was encouraged to reconcile with her husband and keep their troubles private. John Hossack's behavior was dismissed as "tantrums." Public sentiment clearly favored the husband, as was common in that era.
“Her stoicism during the trial hardened public opinion against her, and was viewed as "unwomanlike."
“The prosecution, not the defense, raised the issue of violence and abuse in the home, in order to establish her motivation to kill.
“Nowadays the defense might introduce such information in order to mitigate the guilt of the accused husband-killer.
Women’s Suffrage (1840-1920) 1890
1864 WWI: 1914 – 1918
1920 Wyoming granted women the right to vote in 1869.
In 1869 a rift developed among feminists over the proposed 15th Amendment, which gave the vote to black men.
Susan B. Anthony and others refused to endorse the amendment because it did not give women the ballot. They formed the National Woman Suffrage Association.
Other suffragists, however, including Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe, argued that once the black man was enfranchised, women would achieve their goal. Stone created the American Woman Suffrage Association.
In 1890 the two groups united under the name National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
In the same year Wyoming entered the Union, becoming the first state with general women's suffrage (which it had adopted as a territory in 1869).
Due to shortage of manpower domestically, women worked in nontraditional jobs and demonstrated willingness and ability to move beyond prescribed gender roles.
Forced to resign from NAWSA because of her insistence on the use of militant direct-action tactics, Alice Paul organized the National Woman's Party, which used such strategies as mass marches and hunger strikes.
On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted the ballot to American women.
A reflection of:
Time: 1900 – 1910
Place: America Mid-west
Actual Events: Margaret Hossack’s trial for her husband’s murder
Author: Susan Glaspell’s involvement in the murder investigation
Issues of the Time: Women’s Suffrage