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Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening:Enhancements - Oscar Chopin

Oscar Chopin: Oscar Chopin, the Businessman

Kate Chopin Enhancements: Oscar Chopin

Oscar Chopin, the Buisnessman


NARRATOR: Some have raised questions about Oscar Chopin's business ability. During the early years of his marriage when living and working in New Orleans, he worked as a cotton factor, a middleman between planters and buyers. It was a risky business because cotton factors not only provided supplies for farmers, they also lent them money against their crops. Some farmers were still trying to recover losses they suffered during the Civil War. To add to that labor had become more difficult to find. Oscar's business started off doing very well. He moved to a bigger office on Carondalet Street, and he paid his people well. Cotton had kept the port of new Orleans very busy. But, things slowed down drastically. Oscar's business failed after two poor crops in 1878 and '79.

SOUNDBITE: E.F. Genovese/Emory University
It's not just that there would be a year in which they wouldn't make the profits they hoped for, but that they could be actively out of pocket. And, the 1870s saw a serious economic crisis in which the price of cotton dropped so that that meant that everyone who was dealing in cotton lost.

NARRATOR: After the Chopin's cotton factor business failed, they journeyed from New Orleans to Natchitoches where Oscar opened a general store. It was a wonderful gathering place for many in the small community to share stories. Kate helped in the store, relishing in the company and camaraderie. Oscar had a reputation for giving his best customers a little extra. But, he was perhaps best known for giving everyone credit, while putting little effort into collecting his money. At the time of Oscar's death, the store was more than 12-thousand dollars in debt. Kate had to pay off the debt before moving back to St. Louis.

Oscar Chopin: Oscar Chopin, the Husband

Kate Chopin Enhancements: Oscar Chopin

Oscar Chopin, the Husband


NARRATOR: By all accounts, Kate and Oscar Chopin had a good relationship despite his business difficulties. A friend told a biographer that "Kate was devoted to Oscar and thought him perfect." Oscar may have been very accommodating to Kate because he didn't want to be like his own father. Victor Jean Batiste Chopin was reportedly an unusually harsh man. Scholars say Victor came to the United States with the intent of finding a rich woman, marrying her and taking her land. And, that's exactly what he did. But, he didn't stop there.

SOUNDBITE: Emily Toth/Louisiana State University
He treated his slaves cruelly. He also treated his wife cruelly. He beat her. He wouldn't let her go out of the house. He broke her piano. He wouldn't let her go to church. He, was what we know now as a classic portrait of a batterer. He isolated her from friends and family and made her dependent on him in every respect.

SOUNDBITE: Jean Bardot/American College (Paris)
Well he may not have been cruel as described by many people in the parish, but he was rather hard, as I said a shrewd businessman. He was rather hard in the family with his wife and son, since Oscar had to run away and moved to his aunt's at the age of 16. And we have an interesting detail. His mother was not able to visit him because the father didn't want the mother to visit the son. So she had to borrow a carriage from her mother to be able to visit her son in Cloutierville. And, at the age of 18, he moved away from Natchitoches and went to St. Louis.

NARRATOR: Oscar was apparently just the opposite with Kate. He admired her for her spunk and independence.

SOUNDBITE: David Chopin/Kate Great-Grandson
She scandalized everybody. She smoked. She walked around by herself at nighttime. Oscar was open about what she did, how she was, and so forth, and quite accommodating I think, there was nothing stultifying about his relationship with her. I think he gave her free reign and it must have been a great relationship.

NARRATOR: There are reports that relatives warned Oscar to try to control his wife more but, he simply told Kate what had been said and the couple laughed about it. Now back to how Kate Chopin carried on after the death of Oscar.