St. Louis and at Fault
FOR KATE CHOPIN, moving back to St. Louis was not the frantic flight of a scandalous woman or a broken-hearted widow. Nor was it solely the ragged retreat of an exhausted, still-young woman who yearned for the safety and comfort of her mother's love.
Chopin also returned to St. Louis as the mother of young children, as the head of a family, and as a woman who loved reading and writing and was fascinated by the newest scientific thinking. All that made her a misfit in Cloutierville, where storytelling was a great popular art but private reading was rare. Too, the lack of a lending library, such as the Mercantile in St. Louis, made it hard for her even to get books.
She also worried about her children's education. The Cloutierville school, just nine years old, had only the most basic curriculum: geography, grammar, history, spelling, reading, arithmetic, philosophy, and a miscellaneous subject called "Scholars Companion." There was no science, and after the elementary years, there were no schools at all in the little French village. The Chopin youngsters would have had to go to boarding school, which was very expensive. With her children gone, Kate Chopin would have been even more alone, a foreigner and an outsider.
Meanwhile, the best public schools in the United States in the 1880s happened to be in St. Louis. The first kindergartens in the country were started there, and many of the public school teachers belonged to the "St. Louis Movement," a circle of Hegelian philosophers. Central High School's rigorous curriculum included ancient and modern history, English literature, geography, Greek, and Latin, as well as the newest mathematics and natural science. There were even sports teams