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Grand Isle

Bus Tour of Kate Chopin's New Orleans

Essay on Kate Chopin's New Orleans

On Sunday, March 14, 1999 in connection with the "Women @ 2K" conference at Newcomb College, I took part in the bus & short walk tour of Kate Chopin's New Orleans.  I would like to say that I did it because of my intense love and appreciation for the subject, but I can't.  I am forced to admit that as much as I enjoyed the tour, which I really did, I would probably not have been there if I hadn't needed the extra credit so desperately.  Moreover, I would like to say that as an enlightened and mature man of the 90's I was comfortable as the only guy on a bus full of learned feminist scholars, accomplished authors and professionals, but I can't do that either.  Perhaps it was the fact that I was attending a "women's" conference, "dah," or maybe that I am not as enlightened as I thought, but somehow I felt a bit out of place.

As soon as our tour guide, New Orleans historian and writer Mary Gehman, was on board we were cruising down St. Charles Avenue in all its splendor with purple and pink azalea's lining the way.  Whatever discomfort I may have thought I was feeling quickly dissipated as we were transported back to the New Orleans of Kate Chopin and the 1890s.  

We stopped at 1413 Louisiana Avenue, the third New Orleans residence of Mr. and Mrs. Chopin; their first two homes, one on Magazine St. and another on Constantinople St., no longer exist.  It was fun to sit and stare at the second story side balcony and wonder how much time Kate Chopin spent in that spot developing the thoughts and images of the characters that would come to life in "The Awakening." 

From that point on, the time transport was complete as the people and places of the period came to life for us to enjoy while we watched in amazement from the seat of our bus and hoped that time would pass slowly.  The people that had at first intimidated me because of their credentials provided an immense wealth of information covering Kate Chopin and turn of the century New Orleans in such a way that I will not soon forget.

We saw the homes of Sophie B. Wright and Grace King whom it was thought were likely to have been known by Kate Chopin.  We learned that New Orleans was the first place in the country to have a statue of a woman.  The statue was of Margaret Haughery, a landowner in New Orleans, who was known for being a friend to poor children.  Additionally, we discovered that the state of Louisiana was in fact a leader in the United States with regard to the right of women to vote and be property owners.

We gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and insight from the tour of Kate Chopin's New Orleans the highlight of which might have been comments from Emily Toth.  Emily believes that Edgar Degas was likely to have been an acquaintance of the Chopin's as her research has uncovered a striking similarity in the names of relatives and friends of Degas that all too closely resemble that of characters in "The Awakening."  I am sorry that I didn't take written notes, however there was the name Emma Pontellion and someone name Leonce, which are way too close to the names of Edna and Leonce Pontellier to be coincidental.  As you might expect this discussion took place in front of the land marked home of Edgar Degas on Esplanade Avenue.  We expected at any moment that Edgar and Kate might step out on the porch to invite us in for drinks and conversation.

The tour ended in the New Orleans French Quarter where after a short walk many of the tourist dined on cuisine from the period at the famous Tujaque's Restaurant.  I didn't join in on this part, but I am willing to bet that the eats were good.

The tour was fun as well as educational for me and I can't help but wonder what people will say about turn of the 20th century New Orleans when they reach the next centennial of Kate Chopin's "The Awakening."  I hope that Kate's home on Louisiana Avenue is still standing and recognized as a historical landmark and that perhaps even more will be known about the New Orleans that fostered such rich and lasting contributions to our culture.

Todd McKinnon

p. s. Thank you again Dr. Ewell for another rich cultural experience and for holding the carrot of extra credit out there.


--Content prepared by Todd McKinnon.

Copyright (c) 1999; all rights reserved.

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