September 12, 2005

The execution of Ruth Snyder

Sophie Treadwell's Machinal was based upon the life and execution of Ruth Snyder (1895-1928). Snyder married Albert Snyder, the editor of Motor Boating magazine, in 1915. After the birth of their daughter, Lorraine, 1918, Ruth met Judd Grey in 1925. Ruth and Judd began their affair and eventually Ruth planned to murder her husband.

After several attempts, Ruth and Judd successfully did away with Albert. He was beaten, strangled, and chloroformed him to death. Ruth and Judd were sentenced to death on May 9, 1927. At the execution, an electrocution, Judd's feet caught on fire, but a picture taken of Ruth strapped to the electric chair really stole the show. This picture was printed in the next day's news.

Double Indemnity and The Postman Only Rings Twice are also based on Ruth Snyder's execution.

I was really fascinated and taken with Machinal before I read anything about it's history. The audience feels a sympathy for Helen, even when we discover she's a murderess. From my research, it seems as though Ruth Snyder was a cold, hard woman who brutally murdered her husband. Sophie Treadwell's play sees the action from the other side; Helen is a meek, quiet woman that only wishes for freedom from her life. This play is just based on a real life murderess, but the similarities are striking-both women were office workers, got married to men they didn't really love, produced a daughter, gained a love, planned and murdered their husbands, and were then tried and executed. If Treadwell's goal was to allow the public to see life through Ruth/Helen's eyes, she succeeded. Helen seems so starved for love and although her actions should and cannot be excused, I can believe how she thought she was in the right. Other options were available for both Ruth and Helen, but took their life and fate into their own hands.

For more information on Ruth Snyder, try these sites:
Ruth Snyder

Execution Photo

Ultimate Ruth Snyder

Posted by KatherineLambert at September 12, 2005 01:56 PM

Excellent legwork, Katie. Did you catch what Judd Grey's profession was? Treadwell took some creative liberty with that detail.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 12, 2005 10:09 PM

Wasn't he a corset maker?

Posted by: Katie Lambert at September 12, 2005 11:17 PM


What is it with death and chloroform in our lit classes?

This research is an excellent springboard for a later paper.

Good work!


Posted by: KatieAikins at September 13, 2005 02:38 PM
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