All the previous answers are helpful. What is not often remembered is that one of the first serious Chopin scholars was a Norwegian male -- Per Seyersted. He became acquainted with Chopin's writings while studying in the U. S., and it was Seyersted, perhaps more than anyone else, who helped put Chopin, and this story, on the critical "map" in the 1960s and 1970s. Seyersted's mother had been a feminist, and so this background must obviously have helped influence his interest in Chopin.
As the author of a survey of criticism on Chopin's short stories (Kate Chopin's Short Fiction: A Critical Companion), I've appended below my summaries of Seyersted's early comments on "The Story of an Hour." If the book is not available in your library, it should be easy enough to get it through interlibrary loan. Good luck!
By the way, I highly recommend just about everything Seyersted has ever published on Chopin.
Seyersted 1969a: This genuinely noteworthy and surprising tale suggests how the success of Chopin’s first published collection of stories had increased her self-confidence, artistic liberty and literary daring; she composed the tale -- with its unusually blunt emphasis on feminine independence -- just when the positive reviews of Bayou Folk had begun appearing (57-58). Ironically, the tale was rejected for publication by the first (male) editor to whom she submitted it. He probably considered it immoral (68), and it was certainly her most shocking depiction so far of a woman’s desire for autonomy (111). She produced it during a year when she felt she had become more mature as a writer (123), yet serious critical interest in the story did not really begin until 1961 (189). The tale was translated into French by one of Chopin’s contemporaries (although the translation apparently was never published ), and despite the fact that it was initially turned down for publication by the second journal to which she submitted it, the journal did later publish the story, seemingly unaltered, after positive reviews of Bayou Folk appeared (209). This tale is one of several that Chopin wrote in pairs, with one work emphasizing feminine self-assertion and the other work (in this case a journal entry) emphasizing feminine compliance (216). Seyersted 1969b: Chopin was prompted to write this work as a result of the favorable notoriety she had achieved with her first collection of stories; perhaps the story implies her sense of having been constrained in her own marriage. In any case, she now felt greater self-assurance. Even so, this story was rejected by an editor, probably on moral grounds (25).
Obviously Louise went along with what was expected of her as a woman of her time. She married, took care of a home, and lived as she was meant to do. Regardless of her personal dreams and desires. This no doubt was the case of many of the woman who embraced the movement. However, when she was set free--through the "death" of her husband--that is when she truly started to feel alive. Much like the women in the movement. As with those who wanted to embrace the values of the movement but couldn't, she gave up the fight.
This story is key in highlighting the unseen and unheard position of so many women who ostensibly are in a loving marriage but underneath the facade are not having their needs met or find the patriarchal system of marriage oppressive and stifling. The irony of Louise dying when her husband miraculously turns up at the door makes this point very clearly - having gained her "liberty" to have it snatched back again from her after being able to savour it for a few precious moments underscores her position as an unfulfilled and oppressed woman. Louise's position is thus one that can be seized by many women because they can identify with it so strongly.
The core of the Women's Lib/Feminist movement of the '70s was that women were free and independent beings, equal to men in all circumstances--married or not. The movement ultimately went too far. (I remember lots of awkward moments when men and boys who were trying to be helpful and polite by holding doors open would stammer or apologize, as if to say, "I know you're capable of this but...." Crazy.) Louise was oppressed by the standards of this movement, which is why they adopted the story as a feminist work. To the degree that she finally felt "free" when she believed her husband was dead, she was oppressed. However, hers was a common female oppression: her husband loved her, she said he was kind, she said she loved him sometimes. This was a marriage problem as much as a feminist problem; women needed to be married and often had to settle for less than real love. Eventually, of course, that wasn't enough.
If we examine how the Women's Liberation Movement or how Feminism in the 1970s would have appropriated Chopin's story, one can see how its relevance fit in well with the movement. On one hand, Feminists of the 1970s were seeking to articulate the voice of women, and the experience of what it meant to be a woman. There is much in the story to attest to this. The idea of Louise not really having a voice of her own, but rather a socially dictated one spoke to the women's movement of the time, as they were stressing that the condition of modern women was no different than that of Louise. When she goes upstairs to find that she can experience her own identity outside of her husband, another chord was struck in the indication that women neednt live a life predicated upon social expectation and that they can exist outside of this realm with their own voice and experience being authenticated. Finally, when Louise dies of "the joy that kills," it is at this point where women's movement thinkers of the time were able to stress that invariably, the reclamation of voice and experience of being a woman is something that is powerful enough to demand change. In the end, the story speaks to much of being a woman through the eyes of the Feminist movement and is reason enough that modern Feminists as well as any thinker involved with the notion of women's identity are fascinated with the story.
The 70s were the brainchildren of the very shaky year of 1968 when America saw all kinds of voiced opinions and civil unrest. In The Story of an Hour, we have the situation of a woman who has found out, after finding out that her husband is DEAD, that she has lived a life of lies in which she has told herself that things were "ok", but surprisingly to her, they were not. In fact, she was HAPPY, free, and relieved to know that she did not have to deal with the social expectations of womanhood and wife-ly-hood that were put upon her. And she was free, and then died of shock when she found out the dude was still alive. Its relevancy only comes to women who are oppressed in marriage but any woman with a little bit of common sense wouldn't put themselves in a situation in which they felt trapped or enslaved in this century...or would they? ;)
This story has a very universal theme that states marriage can sometimes be suffocating and restrictive. The appeal of this theme is quite apparent to many women and also liberated men. This quality can be found in m,any marriages today.
Thank you :)