In 1967, Professor George Arms of the University of New Mexico wrote what may be the first essay summarizing Kate Chopin's achievements as an author. His "Kate Chopin's The Awakening in the Perspective of Her Literary Career" appeared in a Festschrift at a time when such collections honoring retiring scholars were common. (Now, with declining university press subsidies, they're extremely rare.) Arms wrote at a time when literature seemed to matter more than it does today.
Arms's essay was a pioneering work, for he attempted to delineate the shape of Chopin's career before Per Seyersted's biography ( 1969) and Complete Works ( 1969) even existed. Arms's essay on a woman writer also appeared before the second wave of the women's movement transformed American life and swept over the literary canon -- opening it up, at last, to authors like Kate Chopin.
At the time that Arms was crafting his essay, I was a lowly instructor with a Master's degree, at Morgan State College in Baltimore. I had never heard of Kate Chopin. Nor had I been assigned to read any women writers at all in college and graduate school, except the big five British novelists ( Jane Austen, the Brontës, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf). Through omission and silence, I had been taught that no American women writers, and no writers of color, had ever been great enough for us to study them in school.
I had never heard of George Arms, either. Three years later, I would enter a Ph.D. program and eventually write a dissertation on Kate Chopin. Mine would also be the first Johns Hopkins dissertation to grapple with what feminist criticism --