Ahead Of Her Time

December 17, 2008

In continuation of my research on successful women from St. Louis leading up to the 2009 AAUW National Convention, I highlight the brave and talented Kate Chopin. This great female writer was not only a novelist when female writers were scarce, but one who wrote of a woman’s tale of self-discovery. In her novel, The Awakening, Kate Chopin illustrates a woman’s desire, freedom, and identity confined by the social norms inflicted on women during the late 1800s.

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Kate Chopin was born Kate O’ Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 8, 1850. She attended the Sacred Heart Academy until her father was killed in a train accident. Kate stayed with her widowed mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, as well as other family members and borders. Kate was surrounded by groundbreaking women from a young age; her female relatives were very independent and intelligent. Kate returned to the Sacred Heart Academy in 1865 and graduated in 1868. Though she did not graduate with a specific distinction, she was known as a masterful storyteller. Kate wed Oscar Chopin at the age of 20 and had given birth to seven children by age 28. After Oscar Chopin and her mother passed away, Kate started to write as a means of support.

She was prolific until The Awakening was published in 1899. This short, yet groundbreaking, novel received a blast of harsh criticism for its “immoral themes” of women’s independence, empowerment, acknowledgement of desire, and ability to reject conformity. Rediscovered in 1969, however, The Awakening was praised for its literary style and, in stark contrast to its initial reception, considered a pioneering novel that marked Kate Chopin as a forerunner of the feminist movement.

The Awakening is a classic novel written by a passionate woman who confronted and broke through strict social barriers by telling a tale of a fiercely independent woman — a tale that was considered taboo at the time. Kate Chopin, in the end, had a great, powerful impact on women’s lives. Like her character in The Awakening, she suffered through society’s condemnation for the sake of those ahead of her.

So, I ask you, who are the women you admire who were ahead of their time?

Jennifer Steenberg By:   |   December 17, 2008

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Holly Kearl says:

    There are so many!! But Abigail Adams comes to mind first for some reason. In particular I am thinking about her letter to John Adams imploring him to “remember the ladies” when the men were drafting laws for the new country. He didn’t and we are still working on getting laws passed that recognize the needs of women.

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