How 2 Women Wrote About Abuse and Won Pulitzer Prize Awards Almost A Century Apart

Posted: April 17, 2015

Updated: October 6, 2017

15 women out of 70 individuals won the Pulitzer Prizes in the journalism categories between 2011-2014.

Do you know what Susan Keating Glaspell, born on July 1, 1876 had in common with Maria Henson born on June 17, 1960? They were both American Pulitzer Prize winners and both published work on abused women which got the latter a Pulitzer prize. Fortunately these women and many more were able to barge their way in, showing that women, like men, could also write Pulitzer Prize-winning work, even though their stories were written almost a century a part.

Was Joseph Pulitzer a chauvinist?

But it wasn’t that easy women getting in on the action, say some. It seems there are some interpretations of Pulitzer’s will that make us wonder if the Pulitzer Prizes instigator wasn’t a bit of a chauvinist. In his will, Joseph Pulitzer left Columbia University $2 million dollars to establish the university’s journalism school. He also asked that “prizes or scholarships for the encouragement of public service, public morals, American literature and the advancement of education” be awarded.

But here is the awkward part, the testament goes on with wordings like “I desire to assist in attracting to this profession young men of character and ability, also to help those already engaged in the profession to acquire the highest moral and intellectual training.” Do ‘young men’ actually mean young and old women too? We don’t know.

The guy is dead and can’t speak for himself but luckily Columbia University didn’t take Pulitzer’s word at face value. For since 1917 to now, around a quarter of the Pulitzer Prize Awards have been handed out to women, with 15 women alone claiming Pulitzers in the Journalism category since 2011. Here are some of the Pulitzer Prize winning women who marked history with their literary know-how.

America’s best kept literary secret

Susan Keating Glaspell was a creative writer. She wrote as much as nine novels, fifteen plays, over fifty short stories, and one biography. Most of her work is set in her native Iowa, where things like Online betting didn’t exist way back then of course. She often gave insight on topics such as “gender, ethics, and dissent”; depicting profound protagonists, with whiff of feminism bringing the whole work together.

Her play ‘Trifles’ published in 1916 was adapted into the short story ‘A Jury of Her Peers’ in 1917. It is cited as being a great piece of American theater. Even Britain’s leading theatre critic, Michael Billington, describe ‘Trifles’ as America’s best literary secret. The story starts with reference to a man who has been killed in a farmhouse and his wife becomes the main suspect

Three men investigators go to the farmhouse along with two of the men’s wives. Interestingly, it’s the women who notice the small things, related to “women’s work” in a farmhouse: the unfinished chore, a block of quilting gone wild, which to a woman means stress.

At a time when women could not vote or serve on juries, the two female protagonists come to see that the woman had murdered an abusive husband. Sympathizing with the woman, the wives hide the facts from their lawmen. The story depicts feminist literature at its early beginning as the women, who cannot serve on official juries, became ‘A Jury of Her Peers’.

But it was her 1931 work ‘Alison’s House’ that got her the Pulitzer Prize in the Drama category and really gave her a big boost in her career, since much of her work was no longer in print. ‘Alison’s House’ is a drama in three acts and tells the story of the secrets the house holds of the famous Alison Stanhope, the country’s famous poet. The play’s battles are set in 1899, a time when American gambling laws vision of “unlawful gambling” to include cock-fighting and betting or playing a game, for a stake, in a public place.

Real editorials of abused women in Kentucky

Another top woman Pulitzer Prize winner is Maria Henson. She got her prestigious Pulitzer award, in 1992, in the journalism industry for editorial writing about abused women, in Kentucky. The editorials about battered women captured the attention across the USA. Following this, there were quite a few reforms to help find solutions and to assist women as well as to prevent women from being abused.

Henson was hired to be an editorial writer for The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky in 1989. Six months later a horrifying story was published about a woman named Jeannie Purcell. She was taken hostage and shot to death by her abusive husband in Lexington. This happened six months after their separation. The killer also seriously wounded her brother, along with a man Jeannie was dating.

In an interview, Henson said “It was a tragedy that plays out in cities all over the world. My job the next day, after all of the news was in the paper was to figure out, ‘Well, what can we say about it on the editorial page?’”. From there Henson started to interview people in Lexington. She investigated on what the state was doing to help women and what went wrong in the system.

Little did she know that what she was about to find out would shock the country and cause meaningful reforms. Not only was she told that victims of domestic violence were “much better off in Lexington than other parts of Kentucky” but she also learnt that judges didn’t take domestic violence seriously.

Henson then spent the next month travelling Kentucky, uncovering the fact that laws against domestic violent which, though they existed, were riddled with problems learning the problems with the law,” Henson said. By the end of her investigative work, every domestic violence bill that had been proposed, according to US gambling news, were passed.

State officials were properly trained to handle domestic violence cases, and a new computer program was designed to aid law enforcement to deal more efficiently with cases involving domestic violence. Awareness of domestic violence increased, and public policy and practices changed as a result of Henson’s work. The Pulitzer Board stood up and took notice too and that’s how she nabbed the Pulitzer Prize in New York.

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