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I know how tired you will be after Easter, and I don't want you to write me a long letter now. You can tell me about your visit after you are rested. But won't you just answer this type-written list of questions over the week end and mail it to me. Don't comment—that tires one out—just give me the facts.
I enclose a sweet letter from Trix3. She is always so grateful for small things, just to be remembered. Haven't those Mizer women been wonderful in their way of bearing a cruel fortune4 silently and sweetly. There is something fine about them, Elsie, and unusual.
I was sick for a week at Easter time, so I am glad I got all my little remembrances off before that time. I was able to go with Yehudi5 to "Parsifal"6 on Good Friday7, but on Sunday the Menuhin family8 started West and I went to bed for four days.
Love to you, my dear; try to spare yourself all you can, and don't worry about the sad things that happen to our little town12. If Carrie13 and Mary14 and Vernon15 can endure the day-by-day, we ought to be able to bear the idea. (Did Mollie16 get a letter from me containing several checks17, I wonder?)Goodnight dear. Willie
Beatrix Mizer Florance's husband, Sidney Florance, was ill for months in the spring of 1936.
The Metropolitan Opera House had a matinee performance of Parsifal on 10 April 1936. Lauritz Melchior sang "Parsifal" and Kirsten Flagstad performed as "Kundry."
Cather's ledger shows that she sent $25 to Mollie Ferris in the spring of 1936.
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.
Florance, Beatrix Elizabeth Mizer (1875-1963) (“Trixie,” “Trix”). Cather’s childhood friend. Beatrix Mizer was born in Ohio in a German-American family. They moved to Red Cloud, NE, in 1884. Cather later recalled that when she first enrolled in school in Red Cloud, “Trix Mizer was the prettiest little girl I had ever seen.” They acted together in an 1888 production of “Beauty and the Beast” at the Red Cloud Opera House. Mizer graduated from Red Cloud High School in 1893 and studied voice at the Chicago Conservatory of Music 1897-1898, qualifying as a music teacher, and at the Chicago College of Music 1899-1900. She married Sidney Florance in 1903. In 1909 the couple moved to Red Cloud, where they settled and raised a family. Beatrix’s Chicago musical studies and return to Red Cloud may have inspired elements of Cather’s novel Lucy Gayheart (1935). Cather’s correspondence with both Florances began as early as 1914 and extended through the 1940s.
Menuhin, Yehudi (1916-1999). Violinist and conductor. Born in New York City to Moshe Mnuchin and Marutha Sher Mnuchin, immigrant Russian Jews by way of Palestine who changed the spelling of their surname and moved the family to San Francisco in 1918, Yehudi started violin lessons at age four and made his first public appearance in 1922. His two younger siblings, Hepzibah and Yaltah, studied piano, although his parents prioritized the musical career of their son over their daughters. With the support of patron Sidney Ehrman, the Menuhin family followed Yehudi’s teacher Louis Persinger to New York City. Ehrman also sponsored Yehudi for a year of study in Paris, France, with Georges Enesco. Yehudi began attracting national attention in 1927 and recorded and toured the U.S. in 1929. That year at Carnegie Hall, his performance of concertos by Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms with Bruno Walter and the Berlin Philharmonic inspired Albert Einstein to proclaim “now I know there is a God in Heaven”; Cather was also in the audience for this concert. In 1930, the Menuhin family took up residence in Paris, where Cather first met them in the home of Jan Hambourg and Isabelle McClung Hambourg and became a family friend; the children called her “Aunt Willa.” In the 1930s, the Menuhin family made the Ansonia Hotel its home base during their frequent stays in New York City. Cather took the Menuhin children on walks around Central Park, read Shakespeare with them, and gave them books as gifts. Yehudi’s sister Hepzibah accompanied her brother on piano; they made their first recording together in 1933 and often performed together. The family purchased a ranch in Los Gatos, CA, in 1935, and after a world tour that year, Yehudi withdrew from performing for 18 months and stayed at the ranch with his family. He returned to the concert stage in 1937 and met and married Nola Nicholas in 1938 (Hepzibah married Nola’s brother Lindsay). Yehudi and Nola had two children, Krov and Zamira. Cather enjoyed a late life visit from Hepzibah and Yehudi and their families in 1947. Cather corresponded regularly with the adult Yehudi, giving him personal advice, although only one original letter has surfaced. In 1947, Yehudi and Nola divorced and he married British ballerina Diana Gould, with whom he had two more children. Living in Europe, he continued his career as a performer and also became a conductor, established a school in England, and became a British citizen. He died in Berlin, Germany, while on tour.
Menuhin, Hephzibah (1920-1981). Pianist. Born in San Francisco, CA, to Moshe and Marutha Sher Menuhin, immigrant Russian Jews by way of Palestine, Hephzibah began studying piano at the age of four and gave her first recital at age eight. The studies and career of her older brother, violinist Yehudi, dominated the family (the youngest child, Yaltah, was also a pianist). In 1930, the Menuhin family took up residence in Paris, where Cather first met them in the home of Jan Hambourg and Isabelle McClung Hambourg and became a family friend; the children called her “Aunt Willa.” In the 1930s the Menuhin family made the Ansonia Hotel its home base during their frequent stays in New York City. Cather took the Menuhin children on walks around Central Park, read Shakespeare with them, and gave them books as gifts. Hephzibah served as Yehudi’s accompanist; they made their first recording together in 1933 and often performed together. The family purchased a ranch in Los Gatos, CA, in 1935. In 1938, after a concert in London, England, Hephzibah met Australian Lindsay Nicholas, whom she soon married (Yehudi married Lindsay’s sister Nola). She abandoned her plans for a solo debut at Carnegie Hall, moved with Nicholas to Australia, and had two sons, Kronrod and Marston. She continued to perform occasionally in Australia, including with Yehudi when he toured the country. Although Cather mentions carrying on a correspondence with Hephzibah after her move to Australia, these letters have not been located. Cather enjoyed a late life visit from Hephzibah and Yehudi and their families in 1947. In 1955, Hephzibah divorced Nicholas and married Richard Hauser. Together, they were active in human rights advocacy, and Hephzibah continued to perform. She died in London, England.0170
Menuhin, Marutha Sher (c. 1892-1996). Mother of Yehudi, Hepzibah and Yaltah Menuhin. Born in Russia, Marutha Sher married Moshe Mnuchin, a Hebrew teacher, in 1914. After brief stays in Palestine and New York City, where son Yehudi was born, they moved to San Francisco, CA, in 1917 and changed their surname to Menuhin. Their daughters Hepzibah and Yaltah were born in San Francisco. They educated all three children at home and sought out musical instruction for them when each was a small child. However Yehudi’s career as a violinist was given top priority. With the support of Yehudi’s patron Sidney Ehrman the family moved to New York City and Paris to advance Yehudi’s musical studies. In 1930, the Menuhin family took up residence in Paris, where Cather first met them in the home of Jan Hambourg and Isabelle McClung Hambourg. Cather evidently approved of Marutha’s parenting of her gifted children, and they became friends. In the 1930s, the Menuhin family made the Ansonia Hotel its home base during their frequent stays in New York City, and Marutha encouraged Cather’s growing relationship with her children. The family purchased a ranch in in Los Gatos, CA, in 1935, which became Marutha’s primary residence when she was not on tour with her children. Her relationships with Yehudi and Hepzibah remained strong as they emerged into adulthood, but Yaltah rebelled against her mother’s authority and the two became alienated from one another. Although only one brief letter from Cather to Marutha Menuhin is known, they evidently carried out a regular correspondence. Marutha Menuhin died in Los Gatos.0171
Menuhin, Yaltah (1921-2001). Pianist. Born in San Francisco, CA, to Moshe and Marutha Sher Menuhin, immigrant Russian Jews by way of Palestine, Yaltah began studying piano at the age of three. The studies and career of her older brother, violinist Yehudi, dominated the family (their second child, Hepzibah, was also a pianist). In 1930, the Menuhin family took up residence in Paris, where Cather first met them in the home of Jan Hambourg and Isabelle McClung Hambourg and became a family friend; the children called her “Aunt Willa.” In the 1930s, the Menuhin family made the Ansonia Hotel its home base during their frequent stays in New York City. Cather took the Menuhin children on walks around Central Park, read Shakespeare with them, and gave them books as gifts. The family purchased a ranch in Los Gatos, CA, in 1935. As Yaltah grew older and wanted to pursue her own musical career, her relationship with her mother grew difficult—Marutha supported Hepzibah’s role as Yehudi’s accompanist but believed a solo career inappropriate for a woman (even though many recognized that Yaltah was the most gifted musician of the three children). In June 1938, just shy of her seventeenth birthday and apparently under duress from her mother, Yaltah married William Stix, a lawyer from St. Louis, MO, who worked in Washington, DC; Cather attended the wedding. In 1939 Yaltah first separated from and then divorced Stix. In 1941, she eloped with U.S. Army officer Benjamin Rolfe. Her parents publicly disavowed the marriage and she and her mother stopped speaking to one another. The Rolfes had two children, Robert and Lionel. None of Cather’s extant letters to Yaltah mention the turmoil surrounding her marriage, divorce, and remarriage, however. Yaltah’s final marriage to American pianist Joel Ryce was long and happy, and during it she pursued a performing career. According to her son Lionel Rolfe, she treasured her letters from Cather and often reread them. She eventually gave them to him so he could sell them and use the funds to support his aspiration to become a writer.0515
Menuhin, Moshe (1893-1983). Russian-American teacher of Hebrew. Born in Russia into a distinguished religious Jewish family, Moshe Mnuchin moved to Palestine with his family as a child. In 1913 he moved to the U.S., where he married Marutha Sher in 1914. After the 1916 birth of their son Yehudi and Moshe’s 1917 graduation from New York University, they moved to San Francisco, CA, where their daughters Hepzibah and Yaltah were born. They changed their surname to Menuhin in 1919 when they became U.S. citizens. While Moshe taught Hebrew, Marutha supervised the musical education of their children, which later took them to New York City and Paris. Cather first met the Menuhin family in the Paris home of Jan Hambourg and Isabelle McClung Hambourg in 1930. In the 1930s, the Menuhin family made the Ansonia Hotel its home base during their frequent stays in New York City, and Cather developed strong bonds with the children and Marutha although apparently less so with Moshe. The family purchased a ranch in Los Gatos, CA, in 1935, which became their primary residence. Moshe Menuhin was a prominent voice for anti-Zionism within the U.S. Jewish community.
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. Harris” (1932).
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 living in Winslow, AZ, still working for the Burlington, 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.
Sherwood, Carrie Miner (1869-1971). Cather’s childhood friend. Carrie Miner was the eldest daughter of James and Julia Miner, neighbors of the Cathers in Red Cloud, NE. She married Red Cloud banker Walter Sherwood in 1889. Carrie Miner Sherwood was the prototype for Frances Harling in My Ántonia (1918) and was Willa Cather’s lifelong friend and correspondent.
Creighton, Mary S. Miner (1873-1968). Clubwoman; Cather’s friend from childhood. Born in Iowa, Mary Miner was the second daughter of James and Julia Miner, neighbors of the Cather family in Red Cloud, NE. Willa Cather later recalled that when she first moved into town with her family and enrolled in school in 1885, “Margie Miner was so jolly I wanted awfully to know her.” They became lifelong friends and correspondents, and Mary’s sisters Irene and Carrie were equally close to Cather. Mary Miner wed local physician E. A. Creighton in 1900 and lived the rest of her life in Red Cloud. She was the prototype for Julia Harling in My Ántonia (1918).
Foe, Vernon M. Story (1893-1982). Cather’s Red Cloud acquaintance. Born in Iowa, Vernon was the stepdaughter of Red Cloud, NE, salesman and clothing store owner Paul Storey, whom her mother, Fannie, married in 1898. After graduating from the Red Cloud high school, she attended the University of Nebraska and taught in Red Cloud. In 1919 she married attorney Howard S. Foe, with whom she had two sons. She died in Red Cloud.
Ferris, Mollie (c. 1864-1941). Cather family friend in Red Cloud. Ferris was a close friend of Cather’s mother. Willa Cather and Ferris served jointly as godmothers when Cather’s niece Helen Louise Cather was christened in Red Cloud, NE, in 1918. When Ferris died, Cather contributed money for a stained glass window in her honor in Grace Episcopal Church in Red Cloud.
Parsifal (July 26, 1882) by Richard Wagner