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Return to Interviews Table of Contents Source File: cat.bohlke.i.01.xml

from Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, and Letters

Selected and edited by L. Brent Bohlke

Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986


Willa Cather arrived in Pittsburgh on 3 July 1896 and went to work as an assistant editor for the Home Monthly. The story of her precocious advancement and assumption of authority at the new magazine has often been told. In less than eight months in her new position her public notice was sufficient for her to be included in a feature story in the Pittsburg Press entitled "Pittsburg's Pioneers in Woman's Progress." The author, Jeannette Barbour, points out a number of women involved in untraditional professions and occupations in Pittsburgh. She chronicles in detail twenty-one women and their vocations. While not traditional interviews in form, the material gathered on each of the women involved an interview situation. Fairly realistic line drawings are included for one of the women architects, an embalmer, a physician, a dentist, and a woman real estate dealer; but cartoons are employed for the woman sign painter, a second woman dentist, and "Allegheny's woman watchmaker," as well as the Gibson Girl cartoon of "A Woman Editor." In addition to the cartoon of Cather the cover design on the February issues of the Home Monthly illustrates the story.

Even in this first, early interview, Cather's talent for fiction is evident. That same talent, expressed on other occasions, often makes her interviews less than reliable sources of information. There were five newspapers published in Red Cloud at the time of Cather's graduation from high school. There is no other record of her father's foreclosure or of her three months of newspaper work. Her active work on the Nebraska State Journal and the Lincoln Courier was considerably less involved than is implied. It is interesting to note, however, that the age given for her move from Virginia to Nebraska is one year older than she actually was—yet an age that was to move progressively downward in future interviews, a movement hinted at in the last paragraph of the interview, where Cather's age is lowered by one year. None of this negates the insightful comment of the interviewer that Willa Cather is just beginning "a career worth watching."

Cather tore out the cartoon and the first two and one half sentences of the article, marked it with two large cross-hatches (a favorite method of hers), and sent it to her family in Red Cloud (Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial Collection).


Miss Willa Cather, the editor of the Home Monthly, is not Pittsburger, but she is carrying on her editorial work here and is such a thoroughly up-to-date woman she certainly should be mentioned among the pioneers in woman's advancement. Miss Cather was originally a Virginian, and lived at Winchester, Virginia, until she was a child of ten, when she went west with her family to Red Cloud, Nebraska, a small ranch town. When she was a girl of fifteen her father foreclosed a mortgage on the only newspaper in the town, and as he was not a newspaper man, he left the paper in charge of his daughter until he could get someone else to conduct it. This was not very easily managed, and so for three months little Miss Willa was both editor and business manager of the paper, and what is more, insisted in drawing the salaries for both positions.

She had just finished the course at the neighboring high school, and after devoting the summer to the paper she entered the state University of Nebraska in the fall, using for her education the money she had earned in her newspaper work. This was, of course, totally insufficient to see her through, and in her junior and senior years she held the position of dramatic editor on the Nebraska State Journal. During the summer she did special work for other western papers. She graduated from the University in 1895, and was engaged in active work on the Nebraska State Journal and the Courier until last July, when she came to Pittsburg as editor of the Home Monthly. This magazine is published in the East End, but next month will be moved to the seventh floor of the Heeren building, Penn avenue.

Miss Cather is just beginning her career, but she is doing it with the true progressive western spirit, that fears neither responsibility nor work, and it will be a career worth watching. To go off, when one is but twenty-one, into an entirely new part of the country and undertake to establish and edit a new magazine requires plenty of "grit"—a quality as valuable in a business woman as in a business man.

Pittsburg Press, 28 March 1897