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RG2639.AM:  Willa Sibert Cather, 1873-1947

Papers:  1875-1955

Red Cloud, Webster County; and Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska:  Author

Size:  0.25 cu.ft.; 1 box


Wilella (Willa) Sibert Cather was born 7 December, 1873 in the Back Creek Valley of Virginia, ten miles from Winchester, the daughter of Charles Fectigue and Mary Virginia (Boak) Cather. The Cather family goes back to the 1750s in western Pennsylvania and are of Irish descent. Willa was the oldest of seven children, four boys and three girls. She was taught at home and given classical authors to read.

In 1883 her father sold the family home, Willowshade and moved his family to Webster County, Nebraska, where her grandfather Cather had already settled. In 1884 they moved to Red Cloud. She attended school in Red Cloud, and for a time she fell under the spell of Darwin and dreamed of a career in science.

At the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where she enrolled in 1891, she studied the classics and wrote short stories. A theme on Carlyle was sent to the Lincoln Journal and published. This early debut determined her pursuit of a career in literature rather than science.

Following graduation in 1895, she wrote for a Lincoln newspaper. In 1896 she obtained a position on a newly founded “family magazine” in Pittsburgh, The Home Monthly, which she managed and edited. From this she moved in 1897 to the Pittsburgh Daily Leader as a copy editor and later as a music and drama critic.

By the turn of the century Cather was bored with newspaper work and in 1901 turned to high school teaching. In the summer of 1902 she took her first trip abroad and in 1903 she brought out a volume of verse, April Twilights, and in 1905 a book of tales, The Troll Garden. As a result, S.S. McClure called her to New York in 1906 to be managing editor of his magazine, McClure’s. She served in this position seven years and made a name for herself in the publishing and literary world. In 1912 her first novel was serialized in McClure’s under the title, “Alexander’s Masquerade” (retitled as a book Alexander’s Bridge.) She then resigned from the magazine, and for the rest of her life she wrote fiction.

Cather received many honors during her writing years: degrees from Nebraska, Yale, Princeton, New York University, Colombia, Michigan, California, Creighton, and Smith College. She was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1929, and to the Academy in 1938; she received the Howell’s Medal for fiction in 1944.

At the age of seventy-three Willa Cather died of a cerebral hemorrhage in New York City, April 24, 1947, and was buried, as she wished, in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, a town she had grown to love while making it a writing retreat for a few weeks each autumn.


The Willa Cather Collection contains a variety of types of material acquired from many sources. There exists no body of papers created by Cather herself because she wished her manuscripts and correspondence to be destroyed after death. Over the years, individuals have donated letters or other items which they may have received or come upon. Collections of personal papers donated to the History Nebraska have sometimes contained correspondence with Cather. Researchers or Society staff have compiled bibliographies or written papers which have either been donated or loaned for copying.

The collection contains photocopies and original material. All of it was either donated to the History Nebraska or loaned for copying so that researchers could have convenient access to it in Lincoln. These items were acquired from different sources over a period of years. As new items were received, they were added to this Willa Cather Collection.


Box 1


  1. Correspondence (includes a photocopy of each letter):

Ann Cather, Frederick county, Virginia, to her grand-daughter (Mrs. George [Franc] Cather), July 18, 1875.

Willa Cather to “Dear Little Neddius,” 1896. [original restricted]

1 post card, Willa Cather to C.F. Lambrecht, May 1931 [original restricted]

2 Christmas cards, [originals restricted]

Willa Cather to Kate McPhelim Cleary, February 13, 1905.

Registrar, University of Nebraska, regarding university work of Willa Cather, July 11, 1936.

Willa Cather to her Aunt Franc (Mrs. George Cather), November 17, [1914].

Mrs. Sidney Mattison to Willa Cather, December 29, 1935; Willa Cather to Mrs. Sidney Mattison, January 21, 1936, and to Willa Mattison, January 21, 1936 [photocopies only]

Willa Cather to Dr. Wood, April 7, 1941; Willa Cather to Dr. Wood, February 19, 1942 [photocopies only].

Willa Cather to Thomas G. Masaryk (President of Czechoslovakia), 1923-1935. Includes photocopies, transcripts, and article on the correspondence by Dennis Harac.

Willa Cather to Mrs. Alfred Carstens, Fremont, Neb., November 21, 1932 and September 7, 1933 [originals restricted].

Sarah J. Bloom (Willa Cather’s assistant) to Mrs. Alfred Carstens, Fremont, Neb., August 12, 1933. [original restricted].

  1. Stories, Articles and Poems by Willa Cather:


Alexander’s Masquerade

The Bohemian Girl

Lou the Prophet

On the Gull’s Road (McClure’s, December 1908)

Strategy of the Were-Wolf Dog (The Home Monthly, December 1896)


Plays of Real Life (critique)


Autumn Melody

Grandmother, Think Not I Forget

Lament for Marsyas

London Roses

The palatine

The Poor Minstrel

Prairie Dawn

Prairie Spring

Provencal Legend

The Star Dial

The Swedish Mother

The Tavern

  1. Articles about Willa Cather:

A Willa Cather Biography and bibliography by staff of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Robert A. Wolfe, “Willa Cather: Her American Dream”

Kenneth L. Jay, “Willa Cather Reconsidered”

Robert L. Gale, “Willa Cather and the Usable Past”

Helen Geneva Masters, “Nebraska Authors: Willa Cather”

Pamphlet on Song of the Lark, Willa Cather, and several of her works.

Margaret Anne O’Connor, “A Guide to the Letters of Willa Cather”

  1. Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial material; Newspaper and magazine clippings

  2. Miscellany: Copy of Willa Cather’s will (1943); newspaper clippings, programs, pamphlets, posters (see oversize)

  3. Photocopies of letters from Willa Cather in the George A. Beecher Collection at History Nebraska

  4. Photocopies of letters from Willa Cather in the Ned C. Abbott Collection at History Nebraska



Cather Family [RG3890]

Gere Family Collection [RG3472]

George Allen Beecher Collection [RG2509]

Ned C. Abbott Collection [RG2626]



Willa Cather Foundation (Red Cloud, Nebraska)

University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Archives and Special Collections (Lincoln, Nebraska)


Revised TMM        11-28-2006; 03-21-2019