In 1902, Treadwell began studies at the University of California at Berkeley that would lead four years later to a Bachelor of Letters degree in French. While at Berkeley, Treadwell pursued a number of extracurricular activities, most notably in drama and writing. Her scrapbook of these college years attests that she was a regular and prominent participant in activities of the drama club. She also began writing fiction and poetry, edited the college humor magazine, and served as a campus correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner.
But her college years were also marked by economic hardship. She studied shorthand and typing at a commercial high school in preparation for an office job, worked in the circulation department of the San Francisco Call, and taught foreign students at a local night school. The stress of her many activities contributed to the onset of nervous and digestive disorders that were to recur throughout her life, conditions that would also plague several of the female characters in her dramas.
Upon graduation, Treadwell accepted positions as a teacher in a mining camp in the Sierra Nevadas and as a governess on a ranch. These jobs allowed her sufficient time to complete early plays and stories.
In the fall of 1907, however, Treadwell moved to Los Angeles with her mother to try her hand in professional theatre. Although successful in a brief stint as a singer in vaudeville, Treadwell became disillusioned with the squallidness of the performance conditions.
With the aid of a former drama critic, Constance Skinner, Treadwell secured a position typing the memoirs of the famed actress Helena Modjeska. The position lasted several months, and Modjeska tutored Treadwell in her acting and encouraged her to submit one of her early plays to a New York agent. Although the play was not optioned, Treadwell was sufficiently encouraged to continue her interest in theatre. In 1912, Treadwell performed in an outdoor theatre at Carmel-by-the Sea, California.
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