Back Kate Chopin, “Miss McEnders”

Kate Chopin (1850–1904)
From Kate Chopin: Complete Novels & Stories

Employees heading home at the end of the day from Brown’s Shoe Factory, Washington and 18th Streets, St. Louis, Missouri, 1910. (Lewis Wickes Hine/Library of Congress)

Kate Chopin was born 172 years ago, on February 8, 1850.

Over the course of her writing career, Chopin occasionally wrote stories that editors wouldn’t touch—usually because of their implicit sexual situations or unorthodox social themes. But there was one story she couldn’t get published because too many readers would have recognized the target of Chopin’s satire. “Miss McEnders” was rejected by several publications almost certainly because the title character was a thinly disguised caricature of St. Louis newspaper heiress and philanthropist Miss Ellen McKee, a do-gooder on a mission to improve “the moral condition of the factory-girl.”

Five years later, the story did finally appear under a pseudonym in The Criterion, a new St. Louis literary magazine that quickly became known for its editorial independence, boasting—for example—that it was “the only paper whose dramatic critics pay for their seats at the theaters.” That independence, however, was sorely tested when Chopin’s story appeared, because the magazine’s major benefactor, who donated $1,000 a week to keep the operation afloat, was none other than Miss Ellen McKee.

The aftermath of the story’s publication did not end all that well for anyone concerned: not for the magazine’s editors, not for Ellen McKee, who endured mockery by the city’s rival newspaper paper, and not even, eventually, for Kate Chopin. But the story survives: a sharp, acerbic, and ultimately heart-rending story about a young woman who painfully discovers her real place in a social circle she has taken for granted. The selection is available at our Story of the Week site, along with an introduction explaining the source of the ill-gotten gains inherited by Ellen McKee and what motivated Kate Chopin to write a story about her.

Read “Miss McEnders” by Kate Chopin

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