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.
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
working for the Santa Fe railroad and living in Winslow, AZ, 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, 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.
Cather, James Donald (1886-1966) (“Jim”). Cather’s brother.
James was born in Red Cloud, NE, the fifth child and third son of
Charles and Virginia Cather. James moved to Wyoming in 1907 to work with his
brothers Douglass and Roscoe. In 1913 he married Ethel Garber, and owned and
operated clothing stores first in Red Cloud and then Holyoke, CO, where the
family settled for a time 1920 before returning to Red Cloud in 1922. The
couple had two children, Helen Louise and Charles Edwin. In 1930 the family
moved to California so James could work in the oil business with Douglass
and his partners. Willa’s relationship with James was more distant than that
with her brothers Douglass and Roscoe, who were closer to her own age,
although she was very fond of his children.
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.
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.