Kate Chopin: Biography of an American Feminist Author

Her Parentage

Thomas O'Flaherty, the father of Kate Chopin, was a highly successful Irish immigrant. A shrewd businessman, he was a founder of the Pacific Railroad and became very prosperous. His first wife died, leaving him with one son, George. 6 months after that wife's death, the middle-aged man married a woman half his age: 16-year-old Eliza Faris, a French-Creole girl of a well-bred, but impoverished family.

Chopin's extended family also included some interesting characters. Her great-great grandmother was granted the first legal separation in St. Louis, gave birth out of wedlock, and financed keelboats to some success. Both her great-grandmother and grandmother had been widowed young and never remarried.

Her Childhood

Katherine O'Flaherty was born on February 8, 1851 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, was tragically killed when a bridge collapsed as his train was crossing it. Kate was only 5 years old. Her mother never remarried.

Kate had been enrolled in the prestigious Academy of the Sacred Heart, a boarding school in Louisiana, for two months prior to the loss of her father. Upon his death, she was called back home and her education was administered by her great grandmother for two years, returning to the Academy at age 7.

There she developed a reputation as a fiercely intelligent child, an excellent pianist, and a great storyteller. However, when the Civil War broke out, Kate's best friend, Kitty Garesche was thrown out of the school for Confederate sympathies and Kate's half-brother George died of typhoid fever. Depressed and lonely, she began keeping a diary, the earliest of her known writings.

Her Adulthood

A 19 year old woman, Kate Chopin met Oscar Chopin, a cotton broker, and married him in 1870. The pair honeymooned in France, then moved into Oscar's home in New Orleans. After 9 years and several children, the brokerage business collapsed and Oscar took his wife and children to Natchitoches, a parish in northern Louisiana, to live on his family's plantation. There, Kate was immersed in French-Creole culture. In 1882, however, Oscar contracted swamp fever and died. Heartbroken, Kate packed up her six children and moved back to St. Louis and took up writing as a form of therapy.

In this occupation, she found great critical success, supplementing her income from real estate. However, when she published The Awakening, a scandalous novel strewn with sex, suicide, and the startling notion that marriage wasn't the default state of being for women, her popularity was decimated. Shunned as immoral and promiscuous, Kate was so indignant and hurt at the uproar her novel caused that she never again published another full-length story.

Chopin died in August, 1904, after attending the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair, of a brain hemmorhage.


Works Consulted
Bantam Book's Introduction to The Awakening
"Kate Chopin: A Woman Ahead of Her Time" (url: http://www.angelfire.com/nv/English243/Chopin.html)
"Biography of Kate Chopin" (url:http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng384/katebio.htm)