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Return to Speeches Table of Contents Source File: cat.bohlke.s.04.xml

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

Selected and edited by L. Brent Bohlke

Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986


Cather's whirlwind speaking tour of the Midwest caught the eye of people beyond her homeland. Dr. Wilbur Cross wrote to her requesting a transcript of her remarks, but Cather replied that there existed no such thing. She said that not a single word of her speeches had been put on paper, and, consequently, she could not provide him with the required manuscript. Further, she noted, she would have prepared it much more carefully for print than for an informal lecture—because in the latter a person can quite easily modify extravagent statements (TLS to Wilbur Cross, 10 January 1922, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut).

Many Nebraska papers reported Cather's speeches, and her old classmate at the University of Nebraska, Harvey Newbranch (1875-1959), who was by that time editor of the Omaha World-Herald, editorialized on her greatness—and her authentic voice for Nebraska.


Miss Willa Sibert Cather, the noted writer, who was the guest of honor at the opening meeting of the Hastings Woman's Club, held October 14, afforded the members a most pleasant and interesting half hour in a short talk on the native trees of the state.

The same simplicity of style, the same clearly drawn word-pictures are found in her speaking as in her stories—stories that are dear to the heart of every man and woman of Nebraska.

Miss Cather would quicken the love of her "home" people through a strong appeal to the women of the clubs of the state to protect the native trees, especially the giant cottonwoods.

These trees were planted and carefully nourished by the early pioneers, but today, they are neglected and often destroyed. She points out their strength, shown in the great branching limbs, and their beauty of late fall.

She brings home pictures from France, where she saw the cottonwood extensively cultivated, honored by being planted around some of the most historic spots in France and loved by everyone. The children call the cotton, which the trees shed in late summer, summer snow. They play in it, use it for making pillows, and in various other things.

She grants that cottonwood is not a good shade tree, but it relieves the level, monotonous plain with its tall uplifting branches of silver covered with golden leaves, ever rustling in the faintest breeze.

Andrea Zorn, the great artist, speaks in the most glowing terms of the great beauties of cottonwoods and the locust hedges. Etchers delight in their rare beauty of design.

It is known that a large number of people in America seriously object to these trees, that in some localities they are very objectionable owing to the cotton in the late summer.

The French say there can be no beauty without cost. Miss Cather urges new cottonwoods and hedges, planted east and west, north and south. She says if the hedges cause deep snow drifts in winter, use snow plows, as farmers do in New England; if they take up valuable ground, sacrifice a few bushels of wheat, but plant them for their beauty.

Hastings Daily Tribune, 22 October 1921.