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, 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.