Kate Chopin was born Katherine O'Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 8, 1851, to Eliza Faris and Thomas O'Flaherty. Although she was brought up in a wealthy and socially elite Catholic family, Chopin's childhood was marred by tragedies. Her father was killed in a train accident when Chopin was just four years old, and in the following years she also lost her older brother, great-grandmother, and half-brother. In 1870, at the age of 19, she married Oscar Chopin, the son of a wealthy cotton-growing family in Louisiana. The couple had seven children together, five boys and two girls, before Oscar died of swamp fever in 1883. The following year, Chopin packed up her family and moved back to St. Louis to be with her mother, who died just a year later. To support herself and her family, Chopin started to write. Her first novel, At Fault, was published in 1890. Her most famous work, The Awakening, inspired by a real-life New Orleans woman who committed adultery, was published in 1899. The book explores the social and psychological consequences of a woman caught in an unhappy marriage in 19th century America, is now considered a classic of the feminist movement and caused such an uproar in the community that Chopin almost entirely gave up writing. Chopin did try her hand at a few short stories, most of which were not even published. Chopin died on August 22, 1904, of a brain hemorrhage, after collapsing at the World's Fair just two days before.
Margo Culley is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is the editor of American Women's Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory and A Day at a Time: Diary Literature of American Women, and co-editor of Women's Personal Narratives: Essays in Criticism and Pedagogy and Gendered Subjects: The Dynamics of Feminist Teaching. She teaches courses in American studies, women's studies, and ethnic studies.