Treadwell, Sophie (1885–1970) By Walker, Julia A.
Like many women writers of her day, American playwright Sophie Treadwell began her career in journalism, working at the San Francisco Bulletin and the New York Herald Tribune, where she wrote fanciful vignettes before earning the right to cover sensational murder trials of female defendants and report from behind the front lines of war (including an interview with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa). These assignments appear to have imprinted her dramatic style, which often tempered realistic situations with surreal, sometimes violent, imagery; a well-made play structure with an episodic logic; and the predictability of a character type with an unexpected act of rebellion.
Treadwell, who wrote over forty plays (seven of which were produced on Broadway), is best known for Machinal (1928), an expressionist drama about a ‘young woman’ who is coercively compelled to enact the roles of secretary, daughter, wife, and mother over the short course of her doomed life. Only in an illicit love affair does she find true happiness, taking inspiration from her lover’s tales of renegade justice in Mexico to free herself from her oppressive marriage by killing her husband. But her freedom is short-lived, as the social order hails her back into its defining structures. After being forced to fit the pre-set narratives of a sensationalistic press, her life is condemned by the law before finally being taken from her by way of the electric chair.