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What a treat your long newsy letter was to me! I telephoned Mary Virginia3 and asked her to come down to dinner, so that she could read it. I think she got almost as much pleasure from it as I did. She practically never hears from home4, you know. I am sending you a copy of my last letter to the twins5. Roscoe6 thought, and I think, too, that they will get a great deal more fun out of Grand Manan7 than out of New York2 at this season of the year. Besides, I have been very much under the weather for several months and I could not possibly do things with them here in the City. Both the girls write me that they would rather go there than anywhere.
I am enclosing a check, my dear, which I hope you will apply on your vacation, but I won't make any vacation suggestions to you. You remember that whenever I have made them in the past you have bolted in the opposite direction, like a pony running away! I think probably one person can never hit the right idea about another person's vacation.
Where is Will Andrews8 now? If he has come back to Nebraska9, why don't you let him take care of the yard for you this summer? Would it raise a scandal if you let him have a room in the house10? I shouldn't think so. If you are away for part of the summer, it would certainly be a good plan to have him there in your absence.
By the way, I am not going to California13 this year. The Menuhins14 were very urgent that I should come and visit them, but this is probably the only time the twins will be so near the Atlantic coast, and I decided in their favor. They used to murmur so pitiously that they had "never seen the ocean".Lovingly Willie
541 N. Seward Street (Red Cloud, NE): Built circa 1899, Cather’s parents, Charles F. and Mary Virginia Boak Cather, purchased this home in 1903. Cather stayed here when she returned to Red Cloud to visit her parents, returning for the last time in 1931 following her mother’s death. She used it as the prototype for the Ferguesson house in her short story “The Best Years.”
According to her ledger, Cather sent Elsie Cather $75 on 10 June 1936. At the same time, she sent $25 to Mary Virginia Auld Mellen and $200 to the twins Margaret and Elizabeth Cather.
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.
Mellen, Mary Virginia Auld (1906-1982) (“Virginia,” “M.V.”). Cather's niece. Born in Red Cloud, NE, to Jessica Cather Auld and James William Auld, Mary Virginia graduated from Red Cloud High School in 1924 and then spent a year at Dana Hall in Wellesley, MA, to qualify for admission to Smith College in Northampton, MA. In 1929 she received an A.B. in psychology from Smith and then moved to New York City, where she found work at Lord & Taylor before telling her aunt of her arrival. In 1930, probably with Willa Cather's help, she secured a position in the Circulation Department of the New York Public Library. In 1931, she entered the library's internal training school and in 1932 was assigned to the Tremont branch library in the Bronx. After Mary Virginia’s parents divorced in 1933 Cather took a quasi-parental role. She paid for vacations and when, in 1935, Mary Virginia married Richard (Dick) Mellen, a graduate of Harvard Medical School and roommate of her brother William Thomas Auld at Amherst College, she supervised wedding arrangements. After Dick was commissioned as a doctor in the Air Force, Mary Virginia—much to Cather’s regret—accompanied him to Chattanooga, TN, where he was assigned. In Cather's will, Mary Virginia was designated a beneficiary of the literary estate.
Ickis, Elizabeth Cather (1915-1978) (half of the “twinnies”). Cather’s niece. Elizabeth and her twin sister Margaret were born in Lander, WY, to Roscoe and Meta Cather, and moved with the family to Casper, WY, in 1921. Elizabeth and Margaret both attended the University of Colorado, graduating in 1937, and visited Willa Cather and Edith Lewis on Grand Manan during the summers of 1936 and 1937. In Cather’s later letters to them she often refers back to their summer visits as a magical time. Elizabeth moved to Colusa, CA, with her parents in 1937 and married Lynn S. Ickis, an electrical engineer, in April 1938. They lived in Cleveland, OH, and had two children, Margaret and John.0040
Shannon, Margaret Cather (1915-1996) (half of the “twinnies”). Cather’s niece. Margaret and her twin sister Elizabeth were born in Lander, WY, to Roscoe and Meta Cather, and moved with the family to Casper, WY, in 1921. Elizabeth and Margaret both attended the University of Colorado, graduating in 1937, and visited Willa Cather and Edith Lewis on Grand Manan during the summers of 1936 and 1937. In Cather’s later letters to them, she often refers back to their summer visits as a magical time. Margaret moved to Colusa, CA, with her parents in 1937. After she married Richard Shannon in September 1938, she moved with him to Boston, MA, where he earned an MBA from Harvard University in Cambridge. In 1940 they moved to the New York City area, where their first child, Richard, was born in 1943. The Shannons moved to Washington, DC, in 1944, where their daughter Kathryne was born. Cather did not see Margaret again after she left New York, and Margaret’s other three children, Patricia, Margaret, and Elizabeth, were born after Cather’s death. Kathryne and Patricia became caretakers for a large family archive of letters preserved by their mother, which they donated to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as the Roscoe and Meta Cather Collection.
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).
Andrews, William (“Will”) Lee (1865-1950). Cather’s cousin; farmer. William Andrews was born in Frederick County, VA, son of Sarah Ellen Boak Seymour Andrews and her second husband, Joseph Andrews, and the brother of Nannie V. Andrews Matheny and half-brother of Elizabeth (“Bess”) Seymour. He came to Webster County “in his early youth,” according to his obituary, and farmed in the Batin and Catherton precincts all his life. He gave a home to his mother and sister for the latter parts of their lives.
Lewis, Edith Labaree (1881-1972). Magazine editor, advertising copywriter, and Cather's domestic partner. Born in Lincoln, NE, to Henry Euclid Lewis and Lillie Gould Lewis, Edith Lewis attended the preparatory school associated with the University of Nebraska, earning college credits from the University before transferring to Smith College in Northampton, MA, in 1899. She received an A.B. in English from Smith in 1902 and returned home to teach elementary school. She met Willa Cather in the summer of 1903 at the home of Sarah Harris, publisher of the Lincoln Courier. Moving to New York City soon afterward, Lewis settled into a studio on Washington Square and found work at the Century Publishing Company. Cather was her guest when she visited the city from Pittsburgh. In 1906, at Cather's suggestion, Lewis applied for a position as an editorial proofreader at McClure's Magazine, and the two women worked together on the McClure's staff for six years. In 1908, they moved into a shared apartment at 82 Washington Place, and then, in 1912, to Five Bank Street. Lewis left McClure's in 1915 to become managing editor of Every Week Magazine, where she stayed until the magazine folded in 1918. In 1919 she began a long career as an advertising copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson Co. In 1926 Edith Lewis acquired the land on which she and Cather built their cottage on Grand Manan Island. When they lost their apartment on Bank Street to subway construction in 1927, they shared quarters at the Grosvenor Hotel when they were both in New York City. In 1932 they took an apartment at 570 Park Avenue. Throughout their relationship, Lewis was closely involved in Cather's creative process, reading and editing her work in pre-publication forms. Cather's will appointed Lewis as executor of her literary estate and a beneficiary of her literary trust. Lewis authorized E.K. Brown as Cather's first biographer and published her own memoir of Cather, Willa Cather Living (1953). She remained in their Park Avenue apartment after Cather's death and died there after a long period of illness and invalidism. She is buried at Cather's side in Jaffrey, NH.
Fitzgerald, Father Dennis (1858-1930s). Irish-American Roman Catholic priest. Born in Ireland, Fitzgerald came to Lincoln, NE, in 1890 to serve as a priest at St. Theresa’s Pro-Cathedral; while there, he clashed with then-Bishop Bonacum. In 1906 he was appointed to serve at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Red Cloud, NE, as the first resident priest in the area; he served there for thirty-three years. Fitzgerald was also an amateur geologist. Cather kept in occasional touch with him and is said to have consulted with him in matters of Catholic practice.
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.0172
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.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.
Grand Manan, New Brunswick, CanadaCather and Edith Lewis frequently vacationed on Grand Manan Island during the summer and early fall for about twenty years, beginning in 1922. For the first few years, they stayed at the Inn at Whale Cove, a collection of cottages with a main house operated by Sarah Jacobus. Cather and Lewis rented Orchardside Cottage from Jacobus until they had their own cottage built. In 1926, Lewis acquired land on Grand Manan, and construction was completed in 1928. Cather and Lewis returned to this cottage almost every summer until 1940.