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Emily Dickinson and Kate Chopin

Who's wearing the pants now?

Emily Dickinson and Kate Chopin were as different as they come:

  • Dickinson wrote poetry while Kate Chopin spilled her ink in prose. 
  • Dickinson refused to publish her works, and Chopin published reams of hers in popular magazines like Vogue
  • Dickinson never married and Chopin was a bride at a young age.

But these women did have one thing in common: they couldn't wear pants.

Translation: being a woman in America in the 19th century wasn't a walk in the park, and in this course, we'll take a look at how these oh-so-different authors addressed that very issue.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Emily Dickinson

This unit will start with a glimpse into the life of 19th-century women and will follow up with a look at some of Emily Dickinson's most famous poems, including "Hope is a thing with feathers," "I'm Nobody! Who are You?," "Heart! We will forget him!," and "Much Madness is divinest Sense." Yeah, there's a lot of death up in this unit.

Unit 2. Kate Chopin

This unit will tackle Kate Chopin's short fiction, focusing on her take on the expectations of women in the 19th century. Spoiler alert: she wasn't a fan.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 1: All the 19th-Century Ladies

It wasn't exactly sunshine and daisies for women in the 1800s. They already had to live with Google, but no right to vote? Or own property? No pants? It was kind of a bum deal.

No vote for you!


And forget about having a job. Poor and working class women could work outside the home, but only because their families couldn't survive otherwise—ideally, a woman who could afford to would stay home and raise her children.

Bottom line: women didn't have a whole lot of say in anything.

But wait. There's some good news: the 19th century was a turning point. You know how there are points in history where certain movements start gathering momentum? In the mid-20th century it was civil rights for African Americans, and in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it's been marriage equality and gay rights. Well, in the 19th century, it was abolition and—you guessed it—women's rights.

Of course, even when a movement has momentum, that doesn't mean change happens easily. Slavery was abolished in the 1860s, but it took another hundred years (and a Supreme Court ruling) for the South to start desegregating. Along the same lines, it took until 1920 for women to get the right to vote in the U.S.

And even then, plenty of people weren't happy about it. They thought the suffragettes (the ladies who wanted to vote) were crazy and dangerous—women voting?! the horror!—because they didn't conform to ideas about how women (especially middle-class women) should behave. After all, being a suffragette involved standing up and shouting—and if there was one thing a respectable woman didn't do it in the 19th century, it was shout.

But we've all seen the bumper sticker: well-behaved women rarely make history.