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Thank you many times over
fod for the long
letter you wrote me this summer. You told me just the things I wanted so
much to know and yet had not the courage to ask your mother5 about. I think I missed your father6 every moment of the time that I
spent in Lincoln3 this summer. He
was one of the people whom I had always so wanted Isabelle7 to meet.
I had a very happy and very busy two months in the West this summer. In Wyoming8 we spent a week with Douglass9 in Cheyenne10 and a week camping and fishing in the Black Hills with Roscoe11. After that we were in Red Cloud12 four weeks, helping father13 fix up his new house14, which is the pride of his heart. Jessie15 has a dear little house of her own and is as happy as the day is long in making preparations for my small niece or nephew that is to be16. We saw a good deal of Mrs. Garber17, who is as charming as ever, though greatly aged and saddened. I think she misses the Governor18 sadly, care though he was. Jack19 and Elsie20 are big children now, but they keep many of their childish ways and still seem little to me. I think, more than ever, that the West is the only place I want to live, and I am planning to get home to Red Cloud for a year before very long. There are many people there of whom I am very fond.
I expect you are, like me, in the thick of your school work again. I am just beginning to get settled in mine. I like it better every year and feel that I do it better. I have such pleasant assistants now; Miss Wilson26 of Hastings, Neb.27 and a Wellsley28 girl.Faithfully always Willa. Miss Mariel C. Gere1 D & 9th Streets Lincoln3 Nebraska PITTSB[missing]2 Sept 1905
1180 Murray Hill Avenue (Pittsburgh, PA): Located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA, now part of the Murray Hill Avenue Historic District, 1180 Murray Hill was the home of Judge Samuel A. McClung and his family. Cather lived there at Isabelle McClung’s invitation from 1901 to 1906. She returned there to visit multiple times until 1915, often writing during these visits.
541 N. Seward Street (Red Cloud, NE): Built circa 1899, Cather’s parents, Charles F. and Mary Virginia Boak Cather, purchased this home in 1903. Cather stayed here when she returned to Red Cloud to visit her parents, returning for the last time in 1931 following her mother’s death. She used it as the prototype for the Ferguesson house in her short story “The Best Years.”
Wellseley College, a women's college in Wellesley, MA, was founded in 1870 by Henry and Pauline Durant and is one of the "Seven Sisters" group of private women's colleges in the Northeastern US.
Gere, Mariel Clapham (1874-1960). Cather’s university friend; a teacher. Mariel Gere, eldest daughter of Charles H. and Mariel C. Gere, born in Lincoln, NE, entered the University of Nebraska's prep school in the same year Cather did. She and her sisters visited Cather several times in Red Cloud, NE. Both were members of the Union Literary Society until Gere joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority in 1892. Gere graduated in the science course and taught chemistry at Lincoln High until 1941. She also served on the Lincoln City Library board for many years. Cather and Gere remained friends and correspondents; Gere defended Cather from accusations that she had been arrogant and friendless during her university years.
Gere, Mariel E. Clapham (1838-1912). Cather’s friend; mother of her friends, the Gere sisters. Mariel Elizabeth Clapham was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Captain John Clapham and Mariel Goodwin Clapham. She corresponded with Charles Gere for several years before their marriage in 1871, when she came to Lincoln, NE. When Cather became friends with their daughters Mariel, Ellen, and Frances, she welcomed her to their home at 8th and D streets. Mrs. Gere, according to Cather, persuaded her to grow out her close-cropped hair.
Gere, Charles Henry (1838-1904). Newspaper publisher; Cather's employer during college. Charles H. Gere, born in New York, graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, in 1861 and joined the Union army. In 1865 he moved to Nebraska, where his family had moved. Politically active in the Republican Party, he moved to Lincoln, NE, and founded the city’s first newspaper, the Nebraska State Journal. He married Mariel E. Clapham of Washington, D.C., in 1871. While serving as a representative in the first state legislature, he helped found the University of Nebraska, for which he served as regent from 1882 to 1892. Cather wrote for his newspaper when she was a university student, and became a friend of Charles and Mariel Gere’s three daughters, Mariel, Ellen, and Frances. She remembered Charles Gere’s “kindness, his easy wit, the ease and charm of his personality.”
Hambourg, Isabelle McClung (1877-1938). Cather’s longtime friend. Cather met Isabelle McClung, the daughter of a socially prominent, Pittsburgh (PA) family, in 1899 in the dressing room of actress Lizzie Hudson Collier. McClung seems to have been the first woman to reciprocate Cather’s romantic affections. In 1901, McClung invited Cather to live in her family’s large home in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. She and Cather traveled together to Europe in 1902, and McClung accompanied Cather on a visit home to Nebraska in 1905. After Cather moved to New York City in 1906, she frequently visited McClung in Pittsburgh, finding the familiar house a congenial place to write, and McClung visited New York City, staying with Cather and Edith Lewis. Cather and McClung also rented a vacation cabin in Cherry Valley, NY, in 1911, and traveled together to Virginia in 1913. In late 1915, shortly after the death of her father, Judge Samuel McClung, Isabelle announced her intention to marry violinist Jan Hambourg. Cather reacted negatively to the marriage (which took place in 1916) but eventually reconciled herself to it, enjoying long visits with the Hambourgs in Toronto, Ontario, in 1921 and France in 1923 and 1935. Isabelle’s death in Italy from kidney disease, which came only four months after Cather’s brother Douglass died, left her feeling bereft. “No other living person cared as much about my work, through thirty-eight years,” she wrote her brother Roscoe (#2137). After Isabelle’s death, Jan sent to Cather the three hundred letters from Cather to Isabelle in his possession, and Cather destroyed them.
Cather, Charles Douglas (1880-1938) (“Douglass”). Cather’s brother. Born in Virginia and raised in Red Cloud, NE, Charles was third child and second son of Charles and Virginia Cather. As an adolescent, Douglass Cather helped his father supervise rented farm properties and worked as a messenger for the local Burlington & Missouri Railroad office. In 1897 he left Red Cloud for a position in Sterling, CO, and then took a position with at the Cheyenne, WY, office of the Burlington Railroad. In 1908 he traveled to Mexico, an experience that his sister gave to Emil Bergson in O Pioneers! (1913). By 1910 he was living in Winslow, AZ, still working for the Burlington, where Willa Cather visited him in 1912. He later achieved success in the oil business in California. Although he never married, Cather notes that during the last six or seven years of his life he had a relationship with Dorothy Rogers. Douglass visited Cather in New York City in December of 1937. His death in June 1938 left her devastated. Douglass served as a prototype for one of the twin brothers in the Templeton family in “Old Mrs. Harris” (1932) and Hector the messenger boy brother in “The Best Years” (1948). His years working for the Burlington also inspired Cather’s many railroad worker characters in her novels, including Song of the Lark (1915) and The Professor’s House (1925). Few letters from this important sibling relationship have survived.
Cather, Roscoe (1877-1945) (“Ross”). Cather’s brother. Roscoe was born in Virginia, the second child and oldest son of Charles and Virginia Cather. After graduating from Red Cloud (NE) High School in 1895, he taught country school for two years, attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln for one year (1897-1898), taught high school in Carlton, NE, and Oxford, NE, and finally became superintendent of schools in Fullerton, NE. There he met fellow teacher Meta Schaper, whom he married in 1907. They relocated to Lander, WY, in 1909, where he opened an abstract office and where their three children, Virginia and twins Margaret and Elizabeth, were born. In 1921, they moved to Casper, WY, where Roscoe became president of the Wyoming Trust Company, and in 1937 to Colusa, CA, where Roscoe and his brother Douglass had acquired a controlling interest in the First Savings Bank of Colusa. Roscoe served as president of the bank until his death. Willa visited Roscoe and his family in Wyoming several times and shared important travel experiences with them, including a 1926 trip to New Mexico with Roscoe, Meta, and their children and a 1941 San Francisco vacation with Roscoe and Meta. She also relied on him to handle family-related business as well as personal financial matters, and he was one of her chief correspondents throughout her life. Roscoe served as a prototype for one of the twin brothers in the Templeton family in “Old Mrs. Harris” (1932).
Cather, Charles Fectigue (1848-1928). Cather’s father. Charles Cather was born in the Back Creek Valley of Virginia, north of Winchester. His family were sheep raisers who were largely, but not entirely, Union supporters during the Civil War. He married Mary Virginia Seibert Boak, daughter of Confederate supporters, in 1872. In 1883 he and his family followed his parents, William and Caroline Cather, and brother George to Webster County in Nebraska, where various cousins and uncles had also settled. Initially he ran a ranch in the county but soon moved his family into the town of Red Cloud, where he had an insurance and real estate business. Four of his children, Willa, Roscoe, Charles, and Jessica, were born in Virginia, while three, James, Elsie, and John, were born in Nebraska. Cather’s relationship with her father was very warm: she made regular visits to her parents in Red Cloud and especially enjoyed her father’s letters expressing appreciation of her novels. A week after she concluded a visit to her ailing father in Red Cloud, he died of heart disease. He served as the prototype for Hillary Templeton in “Old Mrs. Harris” (1932).
Auld, Jessica Virginia Cather (1881-1964) (“Jessie”). Cather’s sister. Born in Virginia and raised in Red Cloud, NE, Jessica was the fourth child and second daughter of Charles and Virginia Cather. After graduating from Red Cloud High School in 1899, she taught at a country school and the South Side Grade School until her marriage to James William Auld, a Red Cloud banker, in 1904. They had three children (Charles, William Thomas, and Mary Virginia). After their divorce in 1933, she moved to Palo Alto, CA, where she died thirty-one years later. Few letters from Willa Cather to her sister Jessica survive, and particularly after Jessica’s divorce their relationship was strained.
Mellen, Mary Virginia Auld (1906-1982) (“Virginia,” “M.V.”). Cather's niece. Born in Red Cloud, NE, to Jessica Cather Auld and James William Auld, Mary Virginia graduated from Red Cloud High School in 1924 and then spent a year at Dana Hall in Wellesley, MA, to qualify for admission to Smith College in Northampton, MA. In 1929 she received an A.B. in psychology from Smith and then moved to New York City, where she found work at Lord & Taylor before telling her aunt of her arrival. In 1930, probably with Willa Cather's help, she secured a position in the Circulation Department of the New York Public Library. In 1931, she entered the library's internal training school and in 1932 was assigned to the Tremont branch library in the Bronx. After Mary Virginia’s parents divorced in 1933 Cather took a quasi-parental role. She paid for vacations and when, in 1935, Mary Virginia married Richard (Dick) Mellen, a graduate of Harvard Medical School and roommate of her brother William Thomas Auld at Amherst College, she supervised wedding arrangements. After Dick was commissioned as a doctor in the Air Force, Mary Virginia—much to Cather’s regret—accompanied him to Chattanooga, TN, where he was assigned. In Cather's will, Mary Virginia was designated a beneficiary of the literary estate.
Garber, Lyra Wheeler (1855-1921). Red Cloud resident. Born in Georgia, Lyra moved with her family to Illinois in 1856 and to California in 1859, where her father kept hotels in Nevada County; she first met Silas Garber there in 1866 when he was visiting his elder brother Jacob. Lyra reportedly attended a convent school in Grass Valley, CA, and a finishing school in San Francisco. In 1875, when Silas Garber was governor of Nebraska, he returned to Grass Valley and married Lyra Wheeler. After his term was up in 1878, the couple moved to Red Cloud, NE. Widowed in 1905, Lyra stayed there until 1912. In 1914 settled in Grangeville, ID, where a sister lived, and cut her ties to Nebraska. In 1915, she married Swan Anderson, a considerably-younger bank cashier. They moved to Oregon in 1918, where she died. Cather observed Silas and Lyra Garber during their Red Cloud years and made them the prototypes for Daniel and Marian Forrester in A Lost Lady (1923).
Garber, Silas (1833-1905). American governor. Born into a large family in Ohio, Garber followed family members to settle in northeastern Iowa. There, in 1857 he married Rosella Dana. In 1860, their son William Seward Garber was born and in 1862 Rosella died. Garber enlisted in the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War, rising to the rank of captain. On a visit to family in California in 1866, he met twelve year-old Lyra Wheeler, whom he married eight years later. In 1870 Garber led a band of settlers to open land in south-central Nebraska, founding the town of Red Cloud on his homestead and in 1874 he was elected governor of Nebraska. After serving two terms, he returned to Red Cloud, where he and Lyra lived just outside town. The grove of trees surrounding their house was a popular place for summer picnics and dances, which Cather attended. Garber founded the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Red Cloud in 1886; it failed in the Panic of 1893, and Garber’s health and fortune slowly declined. Cather knew Garber as the town’s most prominent citizen, and she portrayed him as Captain Forrester in A Lost Lady (1923).
Cather, John (1892-1959) (“Jack”). Cather’s brother. Born and raised in Red Cloud, NE, Jack was the seventh child and fourth son of Charles and Virginia Cather. He was nearly two decades younger than Willa Cather, and she was a doting older sister when he was a small boy. Because she missed him after her 1896 move to Pittsburgh, PA, she wrote several poems about him and the story “Jack-a-Boy” (1901). After graduating from Red Cloud High School in 1912, Jack studied for two years at University of Nebraska in Lincoln. With Willa Cather’s encouragement, in 1914 he enrolled at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh to study engineering. Willa Cather was then living in New York City but traveled to Pittsburgh to help him settle in and enjoyed visiting him and supported his decision to change his major to theater. It is not clear whether he graduated from Carnegie Tech but the British government trained him as a chemist so he could inspect munitions factories. While working in Smethport, PA, he met Irma Wells, and they married in 1918. They had two children, Catherine and Ella Faye. After World War I, he worked as a chemical engineer in the oil industry in Cincinnati, OH, Casper, WY, and Bradford, PA. In 1936 he moved to Whittier, CA, and became a business partner with his brothers Douglass and James in an oil production company. He died in Long Beach, CA. Willa Cather mentions him frequently in letters, but she seems to have had little contact with him and his family in later years, and no letters from her to him have surfaced.
Cather, Elsie Margaret (1890-1964) (“Bobbie”). Cather’s sister. Born in Red Cloud, NE, shortly before Willa Cather graduated from high school, Elsie attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln from 1908 to 1910, before transferring to Smith College, in Northampton, MA, from which she graduated with an A.B. in English and Latin in 1912. She undertook graduate study at the University of Nebraska in 1914 and in 1916 received her A.M. with a major in philosophy and a minor in English. At both the undergraduate and the graduate level at Nebraska, she studied under Louise Pound. She began a career in high school teaching in 1912, when she took a position in Lander, WY, where her brother Roscoe then lived with his family. She also taught in Albuquerque, NM; Corning, IA; Cleveland, OH; and briefly Red Cloud, when illness in the family brought her home. Her longest tenure as a teacher was at Lincoln (NE) High School, where she began teaching in 1920, with Olivia Pound and Mariel Gere as colleagues. Willa Cather's expectation that Elsie be responsible for aging family and friends and for legal affairs after their parents' deaths sometimes brought the sisters into conflict. Elsie Cather retired from Lincoln High School in 1942. She died in Lincoln.
McClure, Samuel Sidney (1857-1949) (“S.S.”). Irish-born American publisher. McClure immigrated to the United States at age nine, living with his family in Indiana. Despite poverty and the limited education he had received in Ireland, he graduated from high school and then Knox College in Illinois. He then moved to Boston, MA, where from 1882 to 1884 he edited the Wheelman, a bicycling magazine. Despite opposition from her parents, he married his Knox College classmate Harriet Hurd in 1883. The couple had four biological children (Eleanor, Bess, Mary, and Robert), and adopted one (Enrico). In 1884, S.S. started McClure’s Syndicate, which placed fiction in newspapers across the country. In 1894 with his college classmate John Sanborn Phillips he started McClure's Magazine, which was best-known for the "muckraking" exposés by writers such as Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens, but which also published literature. After his cousin H.H. McClure, who worked for the McClure Syndicate, brought Cather to S.S. McClure’s attention, McClure, Phillips & Co. brought out Cather’s first book of fiction, The Troll Garden (1905). When most of the editorial staff, including Steffens and Tarbell, resigned from McClure’s in 1906, he hired Cather as an editor; she later became managing editor. After she left her position at McClure’s in 1912 and when S. S. McClure had lost control of the magazine still bearing his name, Cather ghost wrote his autobiography (McClure’s serial 1913-1914, book publication 1914). McClure made repeated—and ultimately failed—attempts to reestablish himself in journalism and magazine publishing, often trying to enlist Cather in these enterprises. She almost went with him to Europe in 1915 to report on the war for the Evening Mail, and she remained personally loyal to her mercurial and often-irresponsible former employer. He served as the prototype for Marcus O’Mally, editor of the Outcry, in her story “Ardessa” (1918), and it has been suggested that Cather modeled the courtship and marriage between Myra and Oswald Henshaw in My Mortal Enemy (1926) on that of the McClures.
Lewis, Edith Labaree (1881-1972). Magazine editor, advertising copywriter, and Cather's domestic partner. Born in Lincoln, NE, to Henry Euclid Lewis and Lillie Gould Lewis, Edith Lewis attended the preparatory school associated with the University of Nebraska, earning college credits from the University before transferring to Smith College in Northampton, MA, in 1899. She received an A.B. in English from Smith in 1902 and returned home to teach elementary school. She met Willa Cather in the summer of 1903 at the home of Sarah Harris, publisher of the Lincoln Courier. Moving to New York City soon afterward, Lewis settled into a studio on Washington Square and found work at the Century Publishing Company. Cather was her guest when she visited the city from Pittsburgh. In 1906, at Cather's suggestion, Lewis applied for a position as an editorial proofreader at McClure's Magazine, and the two women worked together on the McClure's staff for six years. In 1908, they moved into a shared apartment at 82 Washington Place, and then, in 1912, to Five Bank Street. Lewis left McClure's in 1915 to become managing editor of Every Week Magazine, where she stayed until the magazine folded in 1918. In 1919 she began a long career as an advertising copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson Co. In 1926 Edith Lewis acquired the land on which she and Cather built their cottage on Grand Manan Island. When they lost their apartment on Bank Street to subway construction in 1927, they shared quarters at the Grosvenor Hotel when they were both in New York City. In 1932 they took an apartment at 570 Park Avenue. Throughout their relationship, Lewis was closely involved in Cather's creative process, reading and editing her work in pre-publication forms. Cather's will appointed Lewis as executor of her literary estate and a beneficiary of her literary trust. Lewis authorized E.K. Brown as Cather's first biographer and published her own memoir of Cather, Willa Cather Living (1953). She remained in their Park Avenue apartment after Cather's death and died there after a long period of illness and invalidism. She is buried at Cather's side in Jaffrey, NH.
Westermann, Emma Hilgard Tyndale (1840-1916). Willa Cather’s Lincoln friend. Born in Philadelphia, PA, daughter of Sharon Tyndale and Mary Hilgard Tyndale, Emma Tyndale and her family moved to Belleville, IL, in 1845. She married storekeeper Louis Westermann in 1863; they had a daughter and six sons. In 1890, the Westermanns moved to Lincoln, NE, following their sons, who began migrating there in 1885, The home of the Westermanns and their sons near the University of Nebraska campus became a social and cultural center. Willa Cather came to know the Westermanns through their sons, several of whom were her university classmates, and she depicted them as the cultured, easy-going Ehrlich family in One of Ours (1922). Although no letters are known, she kept in touch with them for thirty years. She stayed with them in Lincoln in July 1901 and met Emma Westermann in New York in 1905.
Wilson, Miss. American teacher. No further information is available about this person.
Gere, Ellen Bladen (1875-1941) (“Ned” or “Neddums”). Cather's friend. Ellen Gere, the second daughter of Charles H. and Mariel C. Gere, was born in Lincoln, NE. She visited Cather in Red Cloud, NE, with her sisters, and Cather included her in her correspondence in the 1890s. Ellen Gere entered the University of Nebraska in Lincoln about 1892, but graduated with the class of 1899. In the 1920s she adopted two children, believing, with her friend Dorothy Canfield, that women who wanted to be mothers did not have to be married.
Gere, Frances C. (1877-1965). Cather's friend. Frances Gere, the youngest child of Charles H. and Mariel C. Gere, was born in Lincoln, NE. She entered the University of Nebraska in 1894 and graduated in 1898. Like her sisters, Mariel and Ellen, she joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and lived in Lincoln the remainder of her life.
Jones, Will Owen (1862-1928). Newspaper editor. Will Owen Jones was born in Wisconsin and came to Nebraska by 1880. He worked for the Nebraska State Journal while attending the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, graduating in 1886. That year he became city editor of the paper, then associate editor in 1889 (the year he married pianist Edith M. Doolittle), and then managing editor in 1892. He was close to Charles and Mariel Gere, the owners of the Nebraska State Journal, and the Jones’s only child, Mariel Jones, was named for Mrs. Gere. Cather took his journalism course at the university in 1893 and wrote to him often early in her career, although he could be severe in his criticism of some of her work.
Jones, Edith Doolittle (1866-1947). American music teacher. Born in Vermont, Edith Doolittle was brought to Lincoln, NE. She entered the Latin School of the University of Nebraska in 1880; after two years at the University as a member of the class of 1886, she left to study piano in New York and at the New England Conservatory of Music. Returning to Lincoln, she became well known as a performer and as an accompanist and taught music at the University of Nebraska for forty years, retiring in 1937. She married newspaper editor Will Owen Jones in 1889; they had one surviving child, Mariel, named for Mariel Clapham Gere, wife of newspaper publisher Charles H. Gere.
Dorris, Sarah Harris (1862-1918). American newspaper editor. Born in Massachusetts, Sarah came to Lincoln, NE, in 1870 with her parents, railroad land agent George B. Harris and his wife Sarah. She graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1888. After several years in Lincoln’s social scene, she became associated with the Lincoln Courier, a weekly newspaper. Cather, who knew Harris socially, was briefly Harris’s coeditor in the fall of 1895. After Cather moved to Pittsburgh, PA, in 1896, she contributed reviews, columns, and stories to the Courier, and she stopped in Lincoln to visit Harris occasionally on her way to and from Red Cloud. In August 1903, Cather met Edith Lewis, who also wrote for the Courier, at Harris’s house. Sarah Harris married retired surgeon Alvah H. Dorris in 1907, several years after she sold the newspaper.
Phillips, Mary Jane Gudgel (1845-1918). Willa Cather’s Lincoln acquaintance. Born in Indiana, Mary Jane Gudgel grew up in Illinois, where she married Rolla O. Phillips in 1872. She moved with him to Lincoln, NE, where he had established himself as a land agent. They had three children, all of whom died within two years of their births. Widowed in 1899, Mary Phillips continued to live in Lincoln, where she is buried.