Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: At a time when such careers were nearly unheard of for women, Cather became a celebrated theater and music critic, crusading magazine editor, and accomplished novelist-poet in the tradition of American naturalism.
The life of Willela Sibert Cather is filled with small surprises. Though she became identified in the minds of her readers with Nebraska, the setting for much of her fiction, she actually lived the first nine years of her life at Willowshade, her family’s home in rural western Virginia. Then too, although many biographies report the year of her birth as 1874 and her tombstone reads 1876, her actual year of birth was 1873. S. S. McClure, founder of McClure’s magazine, suggested the first alteration when he hired Cather as one of his editors in 1906, while she herself chose 1876 upon publication of Youth and the Bright Medusa in 1920. Though almost every picture ever taken of Cather shows a round-faced, kindly-looking Midwestern farm woman in middy-blouse and tie, she actually lived half of her life in New York, first in Greenwich Village and later on Park Avenue. Her plain, almost mannish appearance served her well, both in the male world of journalism and later as adjunct to her distinctively American fiction. In later life, she would wear bright, sometimes almost garish colors and prints.
Cather liked to say that she had been named after both her...
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Willa Cather was born near Winchester, Virginia, on December 7, 1873. She was the oldest of seven children. When Cather was nine years old, her family moved to Nebraska, where they lived on a farm in rural Webster County and in a nearby town, Red Cloud. The population of Webster County and Red Cloud represented a diverse array of regions and nations. Cather's neighbors included immigrants from Sweden, France, and Germany, as well as Americans who had moved to Nebraska from large cities in New England and small towns from the South, as the Cathers had.
As a teenager, Cather was a tomboy. At fifteen, she signed her name "William Cather M.D." When she entered the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1891, she wore her hair short and dressed in men's clothes. By 1895, when she graduated from college, she had discarded her masculine persona in favor of more conventional dress. While in college, she edited the campus literary magazine and wrote articles and reviews for the Nebraska State Journal. These experiences led to her first job as a writer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In Pittsburgh, where part of "Paul's Case" is set, Cather edited a woman's magazine called Home Monthly and taught high-school English and Latin. She lived and traveled with her friend Isabelle McClung. In 1905 she published her first book of short stories, The Troll Garden, which included "Paul's Case."
After The Troll Garden was...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In novels as varied as My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop, Cather created eloquently written portraits of individuals whose lives achieve a universality of experience and feeling within the confines of very specific, and often unremarkable, settings.
In Cather’s best works, the courage and strength of the human spirit are brought vividly to life in stories that capture crucial moments in the history of the American frontier. In the midst of situations that test the limits of their endurance, Cather’s characters are helping to shape the face of a changing nation as the threads of their quiet, individual stories are woven together in the fabric of history.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Willa Sibert Cather moved with her family from Virginia to Nebraska when she was only nine years old, a move that was to influence her mind and art throughout her life. As a student at the University of Nebraska, she wrote for various college magazines; she also became a regular contributor to the Nebraska State Journal, publishing book, theater, and concert reviews, as well as commentary on the passing scene. Even after she moved to Pittsburgh to take an editorial job, she continued to send columns home to the Nebraska State Journal. Later she also began contributing to the Lincoln Courier. She taught English in Pittsburgh (an experience that became the source for one of her most famous short stories, “Paul’s Case”) and then moved to New York to take a position with McClure’s Magazine. After the publication of her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, in 1912, she left McClure’s Magazine, financially able to devote full time to her creative work. Over the next three decades, she published successfully and to critical acclaimed.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, on December 7, 1873, the first of seven children. Her father’s side of the family settled in Virginia during colonial times. Her grandfather, William Cather, was opposed to slavery and favored the Union cause during the Civil War, creating a rift in a family of Confederate sympathizers. Her grandfather on her mother’s side, William Boak, served three terms in the Virginia House of Delegates. He died before Cather was born, while serving in Washington in the Department of the Interior. Cather’s maternal grandmother, Rachel Boak, returned with her children to Back Creek Valley and eventually moved to Nebraska with her son-in-law Charles, Willa Cather’s father, and his wife, Mary Virginia. Rachel Boak is an important figure in Cather’s life and fiction. A courageous and enduring woman, she appears as Sapphira’s daughter Rachel in Cather’s last completed novel and as the grandmother in a late story, “Old Mrs. Harris.” Rachel’s maiden name was Seibert, a name that Cather adopted (spelling it “Sibert” after her uncle William Sibert Boak) as a young woman and then later dropped.
In 1883, when Cather—named Wilella, nicknamed Willie, and later renamed Willa by her own decree—was nine years old, her family sold their holdings at Back Creek and moved to Webster County, Nebraska. In that move from a lush Virginia countryside to a virtually untamed prairie, Cather experienced...
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The single greatest trauma and most powerful positive influence on Willa Cather and her writing was her uprooting, at nine, from the farmlands of Virginia to the barren and lonely plains of Nebraska. The unfriendly landscape horrified her until she discovered the plains’ underlying beauty—and then that landscape never left her. Her realization that such harshness could also yield splendor gave her a keen awareness of other dichotomies: of pain and pleasure, of love and hate, and of what one hopes to attain and what is actually attainable.
Her early intellectual development came from associations with the immigrants who settled in the wilderness of Red Cloud, Nebraska. A German piano teacher, the town drunk, spurred in her a lifelong appreciation of music; a Jewish couple, a love of French literature; an English clerk taught her Latin and Greek; two doctors, often taking her on rounds, whetted her interest in science, leading her to conclude that she abhorred needlework and would much prefer “amputating limbs.” Cather was one of the first writers to portray strong female characters not defined solely by their relationship with men, but her own relationship with the feminist movement of her time was shaky. She was suspicious of the suffragists, thinking them too didactic, too fanatical, and too apt to idealize women. She once claimed that given the...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Willa Sibert Cather stands as one of the major novelists and interpreters of the American pioneer experience. She was the oldest child of Charles and Mary Virginia (née Boak) Cather. When she was nine, her father decided to homestead with his relatives on the divide between the Little Blue and Republican Rivers, northwest of Red Cloud, Nebraska. Cather later remembered her first impressions of the cold, flat, naked prairie, stretching on to the horizon. After a year of homesteading, Charles Cather moved his family back into Red Cloud and opened a farm mortgage office.
Cather was a precocious and unconventional child, excelling at school, absorbing the culture of immigrant families, and seeking out adult company. After completing high school in 1890, she entered the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. There she showed the first evidence of her literary talents. She wrote for the two campus literary magazines and worked as a theater critic for the Nebraska State Journal.
Upon her graduation in 1895, Cather accepted an editorial position with the Home Monthly in Pittsburgh. There she became close friends with Isabelle McClung, daughter of a wealthy judge, and moved in with the McClungs in 1900. Cather and Isabelle McClung traveled together to Europe in the summer of 1903. While living in Pittsburgh, Cather taught English at...
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Biography (eNotes Publishing)
Willa Cather was born in Virginia in 1873, but her family moved to Nebraska when Cather was just nine years old. She thus matured on the Great Plains at a time when they were still raw and sparsely inhabited. Many of Cather’s best-known works, such as O Pioneers! and My Antonia, were based on personal experience from living in the areas described. Cather herself said that she often drew inspiration from the land and from the people she knew, especially in the early years when most of her neighbors were immigrants.
Cather graduated from high school in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and later went to the University of Nebraska. She had not intended to become a writer—she had instead planned to study science—but attention to her written work soon led her in that direction. She wrote for The Nebraska State Journal, and then, not long after college, Cather moved to Pittsburgh where she taught English and Latin and wrote and did editorial work for two magazines. After Pittsburgh, Cather moved to New York, where she edited the influential magazine McClure’s.
Cather’s first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, was not published until 1912. O Pioneers! followed in 1913. It was the first of her works to integrate her childhood in Nebraska, material she returned to in One of Ours, a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923.
In addition to her formal studies, Cather, like her character Claude Wheeler, was defined by two other factors: her travels and her close companions. Cather traveled to Europe, journeyed throughout the American southwest, and spent summers at the Bay of Fundy in North America. As an adult, she had close, extended relationships with a number of women. Cather died in 1947.
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Willa Cather was born on December 7, 1873 in Back Creek Valley, Virginia. Her family resided in this state for the first decade of her life, then relocated to Red Cloud, Nebraska. It was not until her family's move that Cather began attending school regularly. At this time in her life, she showed a keen interest in science and accompanied a local doctor on his house calls, eventually assisting him with his patients. Cather intended to become a physician when she grew up. During this time, she also made some decisive choices about her identity and adopted a masculine appearance and manner. She was also known to sign her name as ' 'William Cather, Jr.,’’ or ‘‘William Cather M.D.’’
In addition to her science and medical interests, Cather also displayed a talent for acting and writing. She often wrote plays and recitations to perform for her family's entertainment. She also acted in amateur theatricals that were performed at the Red Cloud Opera House. Throughout Cather's life, she would show an interest in all aspects of the arts.
In 1891, Cather began attending the University of Nebraska, where she excelled in language and literature. By her junior year, she took on editorship of the school's literary journal. It was here that she began publishing some of her own short stories, and by the time she graduated, she had also become a full-time reporter and critic for the Nebraska State Journal. Shortly after graduating, Cather...
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Wilella (“Willa”) Cather was born December 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, the eldest of seven children. She spent much of her early childhood on her grandfather’s sheep farm, where her energy and imagination found outlets in her rural surroundings. Her grandmother took an active role in her education, teaching her to read and appreciate language. Cather’s fascination with stories drew her to gatherings of local men and women, who kept alive a rich oral tradition.
In 1883, the sheep farm burned down, and Cather’s family moved to Nebraska. Surrounded by the vast landscape, Cather first reacted with fear and discomfort. According to many biographers, this move proved to be a defining experience in Cather’s life. After a year of homesteading, Cather’s father moved the family to the small town of Red Cloud and opened a loan and mortgage business.
As a teenager Cather rejected traditional femininity. She cut her hair short, wore boys’ clothes, and indulged her interest in medicine by performing experiments and dissections. These unusual behaviors were neither understood nor accepted by the community of Red Cloud, and when Cather graduated in 1890, she immediately left for Lincoln to attend the University of Nebraska.
In college Cather discovered her love of journalism. She contributed columns and theater reviews to local papers to support herself so she could stay in school despite an economic downturn. She...
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IntroductionCather’s name has become synonymous with the pioneering spirit of the American West. Novels like O Pioneers!, Song of the Lark, and My Antonia feature largely female characters cast into a world in which they are forced to contend with the overwhelming space and barrenness of the Midwest. Much of the drama of these early works arises not only from the isolation of the landscape but also the isolation of the immigrants who have left their homes in Europe to pursue the American Dream. Language barriers and cultural barriers often made for a lonely existence for these pioneers, struggles which stem from Cather’s own life. Her family moved south from Quebec, crossing six states by covered wagon before finally settling in Nebraska. In addition to her novels, short stories, and poetry, Cather also worked for many years as an editor. She died in 1947.
- Cather entered the University of Nebraska in 1895 disguised as her fictional twin brother, William Cather.
- She worked as the managing editor of McClure’s magazine for many years until author Sarah Orne Jewett advised her to quit and seriously pursue a career as a writer.
- Cather sustained a forty-year relationship with her nearly life-long companion, Edith White. Although a lesbian, Cather remained closeted all of her life. Still, there are subtexts in most of her novels that reveal her feelings about sexuality.
- A lover of life, Cather is quoted as saying, “I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.”
- The state of Nebraska has declared a portion of protected land the “Willa Cather Memorial Prairie.”
A Lost Lady - Literary Characters
A Lost Lady - Literary Places
Critical Survey of Short Fiction
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Identities and Issues in Literature
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Literary Places
Death Comes for the Archbishop Criticism
Lucy Gayheart - Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition
My Antonia - Identities and Issues in Literature
My Antonia - Literary Characters
My Antonia - Literary Places
O Pioneers! - Literary Characters
O Pioneers! - Literary Places
O Pioneers! Criticism
One of Ours - Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition
Paul's Case - Identities and Issues in Literature
Sapphira and the Slave Girl - Masterplots II: American Fiction Series
Shadows on the Rock - Literary Characters
Shadows on the Rock - Literary Places
Special Commissioned Entry on Willa Cather
The Professor's House - Literary Characters
The Professor's House - Literary Places
Willa Cather - Critical Survey of Long Fiction
Willa Cather Short Story Criticism
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Book Review
My Antonia - Book Review
O Pioneers! - Book Review
Paul's Case - Book Review
Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism
Born in Virginia in 1873. Willa Cather spent the first decade of her life on her family's farm in Back Creek Valley. In 1884, her family moved to join her father's relatives among the ethnically diverse settlers of the Great Plains. This area would serve as the inspiration for several of her novels, including My Ántonia (1918). Her father tried farming but soon settled the family in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a town of approximately 2,500 people. Cather remembered vividly both the trauma of leaving a hill farm for a flat, empty land and the subsequent excitement of growing up in the new country. She took intense pleasure in riding her pony to neighboring farms and listening to the stories of the immigrant farm women she met there. Cather accompanied a local doctor on house calls and by her thirteenth birthday had adopted the outward appearance and manner of a male. She signed her name "William Cather, Jr." or "William Cather, M.D." Eventually returning to more conventional modes of dress, she later dismissed the episode as juvenile posturing.
At sixteen, she left home to prepare to enroll at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, which she entered in 1891. Her freshman English instructor gave her essay on Thomas Carlyle to a Lincoln newspaper for publication, and by her junior year, she was supporting herself as a journalist. From Lincoln, she moved to Pittsburgh as a magazine editor and newspaper writer. She then became a high school teacher, using...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Willa Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, near Gore, Virginia, on December 7, 1873. Christened Wilella and called by the nickname “Willie” throughout her childhood, Cather later adopted the name Willa. The daughter of Charles Cather, a farmer, and his wife, Mary Virginia Boak Cather, she was the eldest of the couple’s four children, who also included brothers Roscoe and Douglass and a second daughter, Jessica.
Although the Cather family had long been established in the small Virginia community where Willa was born, a general westward migration of family members, sparked by the railroad’s opening of the Great Plains states to increasing numbers of settlers, was already under way at the time of Cather’s birth. Cather’s aunt, uncle, and grandparents had already left Back Creek for the Nebraska farming community of Red Cloud when Charles Cather decided to follow suit in 1883. Auctioning off the family farm, the Cathers left Virginia and traveled by train to Red Cloud. At the age of nine, Willa Cather arrived in the region that would provide the setting for most of her best-known works.
The tiny area where the Cathers and their relatives established homesteads had already come to be known as Catherton, but that did not increase Charles Cather’s luck as a prairie farmer. After an unsuccessful first year, he sold his homestead and...
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Willa Cather was born in 1873 in Virginia, where her family lived in a small farming community. In 1884 her father, Charles Cather, decided to join his parents on the Nebraska Divide. The family lived for a year and half on the prairie among settlers from Bohemia, Scandinavia, France, Russia, Germany, and Denmark. Settler life on the Nebraska prairie would figure prominently in much of her writing, including two of her best-known novels, O Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918), as well as the story ‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ (1928). However, Charles Cather did not share his family’s fondness for working the land and soon moved them to a nearby town of Red Cloud, Nebraska. There he worked in a real estate and loan office. Though comfortable, the family never grew prosperous. Cather later described her father as a ‘‘Virginian and a gentleman and for that reason he was fleeced on every side and taken in on every hand.’’
While in Red Cloud, Cather studied medicine and put on amateur theatricals until, with the full support of her father, she entered the University of Nebraska in 1891. There she began to write short stories for the first time and wrote articles and reviews for the Nebraska State Journal. These experiences led to her first job as a writer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In Pittsburgh, where part of ‘‘Paul’s Case’’ is set, Cather edited a woman’s magazine called Home Monthly and taught high...
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