St. Ambrose University student Chad Coffman didn't know exactly what he was looking for, but he had a hunch.
That hunch led him to the Davenport Community Schools Museum, where he found three previously undiscovered writings by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell that dated to the early 1890s.
"I knew right away that this would have been the earliest work," he said.
The short stories or essays are contained in a bound book of student writings and art that were submitted to several world's fairs in the late 19th century.
Museum volunteer Jim Schebler said the books have been in the museum's possession for years, but they were rediscovered with the help of Coffman.
"It was pretty exciting to go through," Schebler said of the stories.
Glaspell was born in 1876 in Davenport and graduated from Drake University in Des Moines in 1899. She worked as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News and returned to Davenport in 1901 to write.
In 1931, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her play, "Alison’s House," which is based on poet Emily Dickinson.
The earliest stories found in the museum, written in 1891 when Glaspell was a student at Davenport High School, now Davenport Central, are titled "Manners and Customs of Greece" and "The Heart."
In February 1893, Glaspell, then a senior, wrote the short story "The Holy Grail: The Story of Sir Percival's Sister."
Coffman did some research and checked with two biographies to confirm that the stories had not been discovered previously.
He also compared the handwriting with other works and sent photos and the text of the "Holy Grail" story to the International Susan Glaspell Society to confirm authenticity.
Martha Carpentier, an English professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, is president of the society, which formed in 2003.
Carpentier wrote in an email that she shared the "Holy Grail" story with two of Glaspell’s biographers, and she opined that perhaps the story foreshadows Glaspell’s later concerns about portraying women’s lives.
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The story, Carpentier wrote, is “fairly stereotypical and superficial and does not really indicate the great talent to come.
“While it’s an interesting find, Glaspell scholars do not see it adding in any substantive way to her oeuvre,” she continued.
Schebler said he intends to keep the writings in the museum for Davenport students and the community to enjoy.
Coffman has been reading and researching Glaspell and her life in Davenport ever since he read one of her one-act plays, "Trifles," which is loosely based on the case of a woman convicted of killing her husband. As a young reporter, Glaspell covered the case and trial.
"It was just stunning," he said. "The play basically floored me."
Coffman said he thinks Glaspell is one of Iowa's most important writers and hopes she becomes more well-known in her hometown.
"I want to see her embraced locally," he said. "We had Bix. Everyone knows Bix. I think she's been utterly and totally forgotten."