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Winter 2002

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Willa Cather Relative Donates Rare Collection

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries has received a collection of correspondence, diaries, photographs, and manuscripts which provide a context for several of Willa Cather's novels.

Designated the "George Cather Ray Collection," the donation comes from George Cather Ray's daughter, Mary Weddle, a relative of 1895 University of Nebraska alumna Willa Cather.

Image of Susan Rosowski explores the collection's extensive letters and pictures. (Courtesy Richard Wright)Susan Rosowski explores the collection's extensive letters and pictures. (Courtesy Richard Wright)

The collection is largely comprised of the papers of Frances "Franc" and George P. Cather, aunt and uncle of Willa Cather. The materials relate particularly to My Ántonia and the 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours.

Included in the collection are papers concerning Grosvenor P. Cather. He was Willa Cather's first cousin and was the first Nebraska officer to die in battle during World World I. The letters G.P. wrote to his mother, Frances, inspired Willa Cather to create the character Claude Wheeler, who appears in One of Ours.

George Cather Ray, for whom the collection is named, is the grandson of Frances and George P. Cather. Ray earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1930 and a bachelor of law degree in 1931 from NU. Ray served as a naval officer in World War II and was awarded a juris doctorate by the university in 1969. His daughter, Mary Weddle, is also a Nebraska alumna, having earned a bachelor of arts from NU and advanced degrees from the University of California at Davis.

Image of UNL Love Library ArchivesUNL Love Library Archives

The collection also reflects the early settlement period in a new state. Frances and George P. Cather were among the first settlers in Webster County. Frances, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, had abiding interests in music and botany—the latter surfaces in letters she wrote concerning her newly adopted geography. The Cathers' letters and other documents provide a wealth of historical, social, political, and environmental information on this region of Nebraska.

According to Katherine Walter, chair of special collections for University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, the addition of this latest collection will further strengthen the library's Cather holdings. These include rare books and archival materials in such collections as the Robert and Doris Kurth Cather Collection and the Philip and Helen Cather Southwick Collection.

"The materials in the collection are wonderful resources not only for Cather scholars but also for those interested in early Nebraska history and World War I history," Walter said. "We are delighted that Mary chose to donate the materials to University of Nebraska-Lincoln."