Kate Chopin was born Katherine O'Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 8, 1851. Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, was an Irish immigrant who became a prosperous merchant before his death in a railway accident in 1855. Her mother, Eliza Faris, was descended from French Creole aristocrats. Chopin attended the St. Louis Academy of the Sacred Heart, where she read copiously, learned to play the piano, became fluent in French, and passionately supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. Chopin became more interested in literature and storytelling after the deaths of her father, great-grandmother, and half-brother during these years. She graduated from the academy in 1868 and became a belle in St. Louis high society. She soon became aware of feminist social issues and became rebellious, complaining of the parties a belle was expected to attend, and of the young men at dances whose "only talent" resided in their feet. She began to smoke cigarettes and wrote a feminist fable, "Emancipation." She read and admired the works of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, and George Sand.
In 1870 she married Oscar Chopin, a twenty-five-year-old cotton trader, New Orleans native, and Creole. They lived first in New Orleans and then, with the failure of Chopin's business in 1879, on a plantation at a place called La Cote Joyeuse. During her marriage she was an exemplary wife; according to her daughter, the "Lady Bountiful of the neighborhood," known as an engaging personality. During her marriage, Chopin explored New Orleans on foot and by streetcar, writing about what she saw, attending the theater and the opera, and spending her vacations engaged in reading at Grand Isle on the Gulf of Mexico, where The Awakening is set. After Oscar Chopin died of swamp fever in 1882, she returned, with her six children, to St. Louis and began to write sketches of Louisiana life for publication. In 1899 her first published poem, "If It Might Be," appeared in the magazine America. During the 1890s Chopin wrote more than one hundred short stories and hosted a salon in her home at 3317 Morgan Street. Her articles, poems, and stories were published in Atlantic Monthly, Criterion, Harper's Young People, Vogue, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Her books include At Fault (1890), Bayou Folk (1894), and A Night at Acadie (1897). In 1899 Chopin published her final novella, The Awakening. The book caused a critical furor that ended her literary career. The public condemned her candid treatment of a young married woman's sexual and spiritual awakening.
Kate Chopin died from a cerebral hemorrhage, on August 22, 1904, after spending the day at the world's fair in St. Louis.