NARRATOR: Kate attended Sacred Heart as both a boarding and a day student during the 1850s and 60s. In addition to French and music, the nuns placed heavy emphasis on teaching their students science, which was especially unusual. And, of course they taught religion. Scholars say in some respects Chopin's education was unusual, in other ways it was not.
SOUNDBITE: E. F. Genovese/Emory University
Unusual in the sense that it was after all a Catholic school and a large part of the South was Protestant and Evangelical Protestant. Unusual in the sense that it appears to have been a fine education which in her day was not available to the majority of southern women. But, not unusual in the sense that elite southern women did receive a good education, arguably better than the northern women or most northern women in their same general class and background.
NARRATOR: At Sacred Heart, young Kate O'Flaherty benefited more perhaps from the school's commitment to writing.
SOUNDBITE: Emily Toth/Louisiana State University
What they stressed was writing, writing forcefully and clearly, and I couldn't have designed a better curriculum for Kate myself, you know, it was exactly what she needed and what she wanted.
SOUNDBITE: David Chopin/Kate's Grandson
She had her own thing that was sort of a spontaneous love of literature and writing and ah, I don't know if she really had too much patience with the formal education of her time. I know that she was taught by the madams at Sacred Heart in her earlier days, and I think that she had to come into her own for her talents, and I think they didn't have to put it into her. I think, they were there and they came out spontaneously.
NARRATOR: Kate's family was also diligent in preparing her for what would become a career in writing. Her great grandmother, Madame Charleville may have had the biggest influence on her education.
SOUNDBITE: Emily Toth
She taught her what's most important actually is story telling, story telling is a way of understanding the world, gossip as being important at telling us things about people's lives. She taught her not to believe in censorship or things, or restricting herself to things that are not appropriate or nice. She raised a child, Kate, who was a questioner, who was curious, who had a satirical side, a cynical side, who thought it was more important to be clever than to be cute, and that was unusual, too.
NARRATOR: Since students at Sacred Heart were expected to become homemakers, they were also shown how to sew, embroider and garden. Kate graduated from Sacred Heart in 1868. She was one of four students in her class to receive the school's highest honor in academics.