Biographies

Chronology

Chronology

Willa Cather
1873-1947

 

"Restlessness such as ours, success such as ours, striving such as ours, do not make for beauty. Other things must come first, good cookery, cottages that are home, not playthings; gardens, repose."

                21 December 1924


1872

December 5

Charles Fectigue Cather marries Mary Virginia (Jennie) Boak.

1873

Summer

Charles Cather's elder brother, George, and his wife Frances (Aunt Franc) move to Webster County, Nebraska.

December 7

Wilella Sibert Cather is born in the home of her maternal grandmother, Rachel Boak, in Back Creek Valley, near Winchester, Virginia

1874

Fall

The Charles Cather family moves to Willow Shade, home of Willa's paternal grandparents, William and Caroline Cather, located between Back Creek Valley and Winchester.

1877

William and Caroline Cather move to Nebraska.

1883

February

Willow Shade sold.

April

Charles and Jennie Cather and their children, Willa, Roscoe (b. 1877), Douglass (b. 1880), and Jessica (b. 1881), move to Catherton Precinct, Webster County, Nebraska. This region, a broad plateau between the Little Blue and Republican rivers, is known as "The Divide."

Fall

Attends the New Virginia country school.

1884-1885

The Charles Cather family moves to the county seat, Red Cloud, some time during this year.

1885-1890

During these years Willa receives her early education, attending grammar school and high school, although at first she was taught at home. Two more children, James (b. 1886) and Elsie (b. 1890) are born. Other members of the household are Mrs. Rachel Boak, a cousin Bess Seymour, and Margie Anderson, the "hired girl."

June, 1890

Graduates from high school giving the commencement address "Superstition vs. Investigation."

September, 1890

Goes to Lincoln, Nebraska, and enrolls in the Latin School (University Prep).

1891

March 1

Essay on Carlyle appears in the Nebraska State Journal, submitted by her teacher, Ebenezer Hunt, without her knowledge.

September

Matriculates at the University of Nebraska.

November

Essay on Hamlet appears in Nebraska State Journal.

1892

May

Story, "Peter," appears in The Mahogany Tree, submitted by Professor Herbert Bates. "Peter" is Willa's first published fiction.

June

Poem, "Shakespeare: A Freshman Theme," appears in the student newspaper, The Hesperian. This is Willa's first published poetry.

Fall

Becomes literary editor of The Hesperian.

John (Jack) Cather, Willa's brother, is born.

1893

November

Becomes a regular contributor to the Nebraska State Journal; she begins to review plays and write a Sunday column. She is also managing editor of The Hesperian and contributes numerous pieces.

1894-1895

Continues as a regular contributor to the Nebraska State Journal and also contributes to University publications.

February, 1895

Meets author Stephen Crane (Red Badge of Courage).

March, 1895

Travels to Chicago and sees a week of opera.

June, 1895

Graduates from the University of Nebraska.

Fall, 1895

Associates briefly with the Lincoln Courier.

1896

January-May

Mostly living at home in Red Cloud. Tries and fails to get a teaching appointment at the University of Nebraska. Has stories published in Overland Monthly and Nebraska Literary Magazine.

Late June

Leaves Red Cloud for Pittsburgh, where she is to edit a family magazine, the Home Monthly. By July 13, she is settled in a Pittsburgh boarding house, and is at work on the August issue of the magazine. In a letter of that date to Mrs. Charles Gere, Willa mentions that she is using a half-dozen pen names.

October-November

Contributes drama criticisms to the Pittsburgh Leader. A review on November 24 is signed "Willa."

1897

January-June

Working on the Home Monthly. Contributes column ("The Passing Show") to the Nebraska State Journal up through May 30. In June, Willa returns to Red Cloud.

July

Writes her friend George Seibel, in Pittsburgh, that the Home Monthly is sold, but she is planning to come back anyway and hopes to get into newspaper work.

September

Offered a job on the Pittsburgh Leader; is back in Pittsburgh early in September.

Fall

Working on telegraph desk and writing play and book reviews. Begins sending "The Passing Show" to the Lincoln Courier. Continues to write her "Helen Delay" book column for the Home Monthly.

1898

February

Spends a week in New York, has lunch with Modjeska; may have contributed a review or reviews to the New York Sun.

May

Visits her cousin, Howard Gore, in Washington D.C.

July-August

Vacationing in Red Cloud; makes a trip to the Black Hills and Wyoming.

October-December

Mostly in Pittsburgh working on the Leader; spends some time in Columbus, Ohio, with her friends the Canfields, first recuperating from an illness, then for Thanksgiving.

1899

Except for an interval in Red Cloud during the summer, remains in Pittsburgh, working on the Leader. Continues to contribute to Courier. Last contribution to Home Monthly in December. Meets Isabelle McClung during this year.

1900

During the late spring (?) of this year, Willa Cather resigned from the Pittsburgh Leader. Her poems appear in national magazines.

March-August

Contributes to The Library, a short-lived Pittsburgh periodical.

April

Story, "Eric Hermannson's Soul," appears in Cosmopolitan.

May

Last "Passing Show" appears in the Courier, May 12.

Fall

Moves to Washington, D.C. Secures a part-time job editing translations.

November-December

Article about Nevin appears in the Ladies' Home Journal. Writes a Washington column which appears in the Nebraska State Journal and Index of Pittsburgh Life until March, 1901.

1901

March

Story, "Jack-a-Boy," appears in the Saturday Evening Post. Returns to Pittsburgh where Willa begins to teach Latin and English at Central High School. During the spring she begins to live at the McClung residence.

June

Story, "El Dorado," appears in New England Magazine.

July-August

Visits Red Cloud — first time home in two years.

September

Resumes teaching at Central High School.

1902

April

Last contribution to the Lincoln Courier.

June-September

Goes abroad with Isabelle McClung. "The Professor's Commencement" appears in New England Magazine. Weekly columns about her trip appear in the Nebraska State Journal. Articles also appear in the Pittsburgh Gazette.

Fall

"The Treasure of Far Island" appears in New England Magazine. "Poets of Our Younger Generation" appears in the Gazette.

1903

January

"'A Death in the Desert'" appears in Scribner's.

April

Publishes a book of verse, April Twilights.

Summer

Vacations in Nebraska.

1904-1905

Teaches at Allegheny High School and freelances. Publishes a collection of short stories, The Troll Garden, in May, 1905. Visits Edith Lewis in New York both years.

1906

June

Ends teaching career and moves to New York. Joins McClure's editorial staff during this year.

1907

Working on McClure's. Spends much of the year in Boston working on the life of Mary Baker Eddy. Three stories appear in McClure's, one in Century.

1908

March

Meets Sarah Orne Jewett and Mrs. Fields.

April-May

Promoted to managing editor of McClure's. Goes abroad with Isabelle McClung; probably returns in July.

December

"On the Gull's Road" appears in McClure's.

1910

May

Travels to London for McClure's. Begins working on first novel, Alexander's Bridge.

1911

June

Returns from London and continues editorial work at McClure's.

Summer

Completes Alexander's Bridge. S. S. McClure dismissed from McClure's magazine by new owners.

Fall

On leave of absence from McClure's. Rents house in Cherry Valley, New York, with Isabelle McClung. Works on "The Bohemian Girl" and "Alexandra" — the latter eventually becomes part of O Pioneers!

1912

February-April

Alexander's Bridge is serialized in McClure's under the title Alexander's Masquerade.

April

Publishes Alexander's Bridge in book form with Houghton Mifflin Company. The book costs $1.00.

"Behind the Singer Tower" appears in Collier's. Visits brother Douglas in Winslow, Arizona. Apparently still on leave of absence from McClure's; resigns some time during the year.

June-July

Visits Red Cloud

August

"The Bohemian Girl" appears in McClure's. Visits Isabelle McClung in Pittsburgh. At work on "The White Mulberry Tree" —an episode of O Pioneers!, which is published in June, 1913.

Fall

Moves into 5 Bank Street, New York, with Edith Lewis; this will be her home for the next fifteen years. Began working with S. S. McClure on his autobiography.

1913

March

Interviews Olive Fremstad, a Swedish-born immigrant and reigning Wagnerian soprano, for "Three American Singers." Fremstad is the inspiration for Thea Kronborg in The Song of the Lark.

June 28

Publishes O Pioneers! with Houghton Mifflin Company. The book costs $1.25 and has a first printing of 2,000 copies.

1913-1914

October-May

My Autobiography by S. S. McClure serialized in McClure's.

1914

Summer

Writes articles for McClure's.

September

Visits Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with Isabelle McClung.

McClure's My Autobiography published in book form at a cost of $1.75 per book.

1914-1915

October-February

Writes The Song of the Lark. Meets often with Fremstad.

1915

Summer

Visits Mesa Verde for first time with Edith Lewis. Conversations with Richard's Wetherill's brother (Wetherill co-discovered the Cliff Palace in 1888) inspires "Tom Outland's Story" in The Professor's House.

The month Willa and Edith spent in New Mexico provides the material that eventually goes into Death Comes for the Archbishop twelve years later.

October

Publishes The Song of the Lark with Houghton Mifflin Company. The book costs $1.40 and has a first printing of 3,000 copies.

Winter

Judge McClung dies. Isabelle McClung announces she is to be married.

1916

Travels to New Mexico with Edith Lewis for a longer stay. Visits brother Roscoe in Lander, Wyoming. Also visits Red Cloud and is inspired to write a new novel.

November

Begins writing My Ántonia.

1917

June

Receives honorary degree from the University of Nebraska. Visits Roscoe's family in Wyoming.

1918

June

Finishes manuscript for My Ántonia.

Fall

Visits Red Cloud and reads the letters her young cousin G. P. Cather had written his mother before he was killed at Cantigny in May. Before she leaves Nebraska, Willa resolves to make her cousin the subject of her next novel. Begins working on One of Ours.

September

Publishes My Ántonia with Houghton Mifflin. The book costs $1.60 and has a first printing of 3,500 copies. A contract was signed on January 24, 1918, with the same royalty terms as The Song of the Lark: 15% to 25,000 copies and 20% thereafter.

November 11

Armistice signed to end World War I.

1920

Spring

Introduces herself to Alfred A. Knopf and they begin a 27 year publishing partnership.

Late Summer/Fall

Travels to Europe with Edith Lewis to see the battlefields and countryside before she could finish One of Ours. Visits G. P. Cather's grave.

September

Publishes Youth and the Bright Medusa with Knopf. The book costs $2.25 and has a first printing of 3,500 copies.

November

Returns to the United States from Naples.

1921

April-July

Lives with Isabelle and Jan Hambourg in Toronto. Sinclair Lewis lectures in Toronto and says nice things about her work; Willa is pleased. Reads copies of the Red Cloud newspaper and learns about the death of Lyra Anderson, wife of former Governor Garber and once Red Cloud's great lady. The story of A Lost Lady comes to life in Willa's mind.

Visits Red Cloud in July, her first visit home in three years. Finishes One of Ours.

September

Visits Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Possibly writes "Tom Outland's Story." Also writes part of A Lost Lady.

Winter

Has tonsils removed, hemorrhages and is very ill. Recuperates in sanatorium in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. Returns to New York and has fresh anxiety over her mother's illness.

1922

July

Spends three weeks teaching at the Bread Loaf School in Middlebury, Vermont.

September

Publishes One of Ours with Knopf. Limited issue publication, 345 copies at $10.00; trade issue printing of 12,000 copies at $2.50.

November-December

Returns to Red Cloud for Thanksgiving and helps celebrate her parents 50th wedding anniversary. She and her parents join the Episcopal Church in which Willa would be an active member for the rest of her life.

1923

April

Sails to Europe for six-month stay with Isabelle and Jan Hambourg near Paris. Sits for portrait commissioned by the city of Omaha, Nebraska; the portrait hangs in the Omaha Public Library.

April-June

Serializes A Lost Lady in Century.

September

Publishes A Lost Lady in book form with Knopf. The book costs $1.75 and has a first printing of 20,000 copies. Warner Brothers acquires screen rights to the novel for $10,000; Irene Rich and George  Fawcett played the leading roles in the 1925 production.

November

Returns to New York and begins writing The Professor's House.

1924

Spring

Meets Frieda and D. H. Lawrence in New York.

Winter

Finishes writing The Professor's House.

1925

June-August

Serializes The Professor's House in Collier's.

Visits Red Cloud and the Southwest. In Santa Fe, discovers a book printed in 1908 by a priest named William Howlett: The Life of the Right Reverend Joseph P. Machelboeuf. Rev. Machelboeuf was the vicar to Archbishop Lamy of New Mexico. Machelboeuf and Lamy are Joseph Vaillant and Jean Marie Latour in Death Comes for the Archbishop which Willa begins writing in the fall of 1925 and finishes in the fall of 1926.

Gives lectures at Bowdoin College, the University of Chicago, and in Cleveland.

September

Publishes The Professor's House in book form with Knopf. The book costs $2.00 and has a first printing of 20,000 copies.

1926

October

Publishes My Mortal Enemy with Knopf. The book costs $2.50 and has a first printing of 10,000 copies.

1927

January-June

Serializes Death Comes for the Archbishop in Forum.

September

Publishes Death Comes for the Archbishop in book form with Knopf. The book costs $2.50 and has a first printing of 25,000 copies. The second and third printings were bound and distributed before the initial September 2 publication date.

Moves from 5 Bank Street to the Grosvenor Hotel at 35 Fifth Avenue in New York when the house is to be torn down to make room for a new subway. Willa and Edith Lewis live at the Grosvenor for five years.

1928

March

Charles Cather dies of a heart attack on March 3. Willa arrives in Red Cloud the day after her father died, about three o'clock in the morning.Willa stays in Red Cloud for a month after the funeral. Her brother Douglass takes their mother to Southern California.

June

Receives honorary degree from Columbia University.

Visits Quebec for first time while traveling to her cottage in Grand Manan. Willa's visit to Quebec is the genesis for Shadows on the Rock.

November-December

Spends Thanksgiving in Quebec. Begins working on Shadows on the Rock in December. Willa Cather returned to Quebec three more times before finishing the novel.

Jennie Cather, Willa's mother, has a stroke while in California.

1929

Spring

Spends time in Long Beach, California, with her mother.

June

Receives honorary degree from Yale.

July-August

Spends time writing at Whale Cove Cottage in Grand Manan.

1930

March

Visits her mother in a sanitarium in Pasadena.

May-October

Visits France. Writes "A Chance Meeting" after meeting Gustave Flaubert's niece at the Grand Hotel d'Aix in Aix-les-Bains.

Fall

Finishes writing Shadows on the Rock.

Receives the gold medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Visits her mother for the last time.

1931

June

Leaves California and returns East.

Receives honorary degree from Princeton.

August

Jennie Cather dies while Willa is at Grand Manan Island.

Publishes Shadows on the Rock with Knopf. The book costs $2.50 and has a first printing of 25,000 copies.

December

Cather family reunion in Red Cloud.

1932

August

Publishes a collection of short stories in Obscure Destinies.

December

Moves from the Grosvenor Hotel to 570 Park Avenue. Begins writing Lucy Gayheart.

1933

Receives the Prix Femina Américain for Shadows on the Rock.

Receives honorary degree from Smith College.

1935

Visits Isabelle Hambourg, who came to the United States in March to consult American doctors for a malady that proves to be incurable.

August

Publishes Lucy Gayheart with Knopf. The book costs $2.50 and has a first printing of 25,000 copies.

1936

November

Publishes Not Under Forty, a collection of essays, with Knopf.

1937

Fall

Begins writing Sapphira and the Slave Girl.

1938

June

Brother Douglass dies of a heart attack. Willa is devastated and does not attend the funeral.

October

Isabelle Hambourg dies in Sorrento.

1939

World War II breaks out when France falls to Hitler's armies. Willa writes in her diary, "There seems to be no future at all for people of my generation."

1940

September

Finishes writing Sapphira and the Slave Girl while at Grand Manan Island. The novel takes place in 1856 in the Shenandoah Valley of Willa's early childhood.

December

Publishes Sapphira and the Slave Girl with Knopf. The book costs $2.50 and has a first printing of 50,000 copies.

1944

Receives gold medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. S. S. McClure is also honored for his services to journalism and literature.

1945

Brother Roscoe dies. Willa and Roscoe always kept in close contact. His death severs the last close link she had to her past.

1947

April 24

Willa Cather dies at the age of 73 of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. She is buried four days later at Jaffrey, New Hampshire, on the hillside spot that she had selected. The inscription on her tombstone reads:

               WILLA CATHER
      December 7, 1876 - April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT
SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK
WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER
COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE.

"...that is happiness; to be dissolved
into something complete and great."

                        From My Ántonia

1948

September

A collection of short stories, The Old Beauty and Others, is published posthumously by Knopf. The collection costs $2.50 and has a first printing of 20,300 copies.

Sources:

Cather, Willa. Collected Short Fiction 1892-1912. ed. Virginia Faulkner. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1970.

Crane, Joan. Willa Cather: A Bibliography. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1982.

Woodress, James. Willa Cather: Her Life and Art. Lincoln, U of Nebraska P, 1970.

---. Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1987.