Kate Chopin was born Catherine O'Flaherty on February 8, 1850, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was one of five children, but both her sisters died in infancy and her brothers died in their twenties. When she was five years old, Kate was sent to a Catholic boarding school named The Sacred Heart Academy. Just months later, however, her father died in a train accident, and she was sent home to live with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all widowed. After two years in their care, she returned to Sacred Heart, where she excelled in French and English, finishing at the top of her class.
Both at home with family and at school with the nuns, Kate grew up surrounded by intelligent and independent women. Her childhood lacked male role models; thus, she was rarely witness to the tradition of female submission and male domination that defined most late nineteenth-century marriages. The themes of female freedom and sexual awareness that dominated Chopin's adult writings were undoubtedly a result of the atmosphere in which she was raised.
After graduating from Sacred Heart, Kate became a part of the St. Louis social scene. In 1870 she married Oscar Chopin, the son of a prominent Creole family from Louisiana. Fulfilling the social responsibilities expected of her, Kate Chopin bore six children in the first ten years of her marriage to Oscar. Unlike many women of her time, however, she also enjoyed a wide range of unconventional freedoms. While Chopin was known to be a good wife and mother, she often grew tired of domestic life and escaped to smoke cigarettes or take solitary walks through New Orleans. She took strong, often controversial positions on the issues of the day. Chopin's husband loved her very deeply and supported and admired her independence and intelligence. She and her family lived happily in New Orleans for nine years.
When Oscar Chopin's cotton brokerage failed in 1879, he moved the family to Cloutierville, Louisiana, where he owned some...