In the summer of 1908, Treadwell moved to San Francisco to be with her ailing mother. She gained employment as a feature writer and theatre critic for the San Francisco Bulletin. In addition to writing a number of humorous and insightful celebrity profiles, Treadwell wrote two sensational serials for the Bulletin.

In response to San Francisco's crackdown on prostitution in the city in 1914, the Bulletin's editor, Fremont Older, asked Treadwell to disguise herself as a homeless prostitute to see what type of charitable help was available to such women in need. The result was an 18-part serial titled, "An Outcast at the Christian Door."   The assignment not only gave Treadwell an outlet for her acting talents, but also allowed her to explore a subject that would form the basis for much of her early drama: the plight of a young woman alone in the modern city. A second and more fictionalized serial followed, the 54-part "How I Got My Husband and How I Lost Him" (1915), which would also provide the basis for Treadwell's first produced play, "Sympathy." The two serials made Treadwell a San Francisco celebrity.

During World War I, Older sent Treadwell on assignment to Europe, making her one of America's first female foreign war correspondents accredited by the State Department. Denied access to the front line fighting, Treadwell volunteered as a nurse and wrote especially about the effect of the war on the women of Europe. Her article, "Women in Black," was published by Harper's Weekly in July 1915.

Treadwell returned from Europe and accepted a position as a reporter first for the New York American and later the New York Tribune. It was with the latter paper that Treadwell established her national reputation as a journalist, principally as an expert on Mexico and Mexican-American relations. Her detailed account of Mexican President Don Venustiano Carranza's flight from revolutionaries ran on the paper's front page on May 31, 1920. Treadwell's journalistic coup, however, occurred the next year when her profile of Pancho Villa introduced American readers to a new, more sympathetic image of the revolutionary bandit.   Treadwell was the only American journalist granted access to Villa at his hideaway in Canutillo, Mexico, and the two-day interview later served as the basis for Treadwell's first Broadway play, Gringo (1922) and a novel, Lusita (1931) [for more info, see "Women and the Mexican Revolution"]. Treadwell again covered Mexico for the New York Herald Tribune in 1924 and 1941-42.

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