The Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior was built in 1927 by Lady Vestey, the former Evelyn Brodstone, in memory of her mother, Matilda Emelia Larson Brodstone. She donated much to her hometown during her remarkable lifetime (see Interviews, "1928: Superior").
Cather's childhood friends, the Miner girls, had introduced her to the Brodstone family, and when the hospital cornerstone was to be laid, the request for Cather to write the inscription was channeled by Mary Miner Creighton.
The style and form of the letter make it obvious that Cather never intended for it to be read at the ceremonies—let alone published in the local newspaper. However, the personal tone and genuinely affectionate remarks make it a highly revealing insight into the author's personal relations.
The corner stone of the new Brodstone memorial hospital at Superior was laid last Sunday with appropriate exercises. The event was of interest to Red Cloud people for two reasons. The Brodstone family are known by a number here, and the inscription on the corner stone was designed by Miss Willa Cather.
During the exercises the following letter, written by Miss Cather to Mrs. E. A. Creighton of Red Cloud, was read by Mr. Frank Stubbs of Superior:Jaffrey, N. H. Sept. 17, 1927
My Dear Mary:
Why surely, I'll be glad to do it, for you, for Evelyn, and most of all, for Mrs. Brodstone. But I wonder what kind of inscription is wanted? There are so many kinds! I should think it ought to tell something true about Mrs. Brodstone, something that was like her—that we remember her by. Can't you give me some hints, tell me some of the things that, in talking it over, you and Carrie have said ought to be mentioned?
I got your letter only yesterday, and just at a first flash I put down some lines that seemed like the memory of Mrs. Brodstone that came by in my mind. An inscription really has to be a little stiff to have dignity—can't be flowery, or very wordy. I suppose the first part of the tablet, the first lines, will be a statement of gift, and the name of the hospital, will they not? I mean something like this:— The Brodstone Memorial Hospital Given to the City of Superior by Evelyn, Lady Vesty, in loving memory of her mother, — — Brodstone, who was born in (—) 18—, and died in Superior, Nov. 19—.
What I mean, Mary, is that this formal part would be arranged by Evelyn, or her secretary, or the Board, wouldn't it? And you want me to come in with a personal note, just after. Am I right?
Well, the lines that flash into my mind as being really like Mrs. Brodstone, as I knew her, are something like this: She brought across the seas a high courage, a warm heart, a rich relish of life, and a hand skilled and untiring in those domestic arts that give richness and beauty and reality to daily living. In later life she travelled far, but her heart was here, and all her journeys brought her home.
The second paragraph, "In later life, etc.," seems to hint of the later years of her life which were so different from the earlier part of it and which never changed her in the least, except to make her sounder and more seasoned than ever. Of course Mrs. Brodstone was many things not mentioned above; she was, when I first knew her, so eminently sound and seasoned; but an inscription ought to hint at the most characteristic qualities, and to me the fine thing about Mrs. Brodstone was the way she could make flowers grow and gardens grow, and the way she could cook gorgeous food and do things with her hands, and the hearty way in which she accepted life.
Now maybe some special sort of inscription is wanted, laying stress on certain things. If so, you'll have to give me the requisite information, and I'll do the best I can.
With love always,
WillaRed Cloud Chief, 20 October 1927.