WILLA CATHER, American writer died (b. 1873); O Willa, My Willa! An eminent author who grew up in the state of Nebraska in the U.S, Cather is best known for her depictions of frontier life on the Great Plains in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. As a student at the University of Nebraska in the early 1890s, Cather sometimes used the masculine nickname “William” and wore masculine clothes. A photograph in the University of Nebraska archives depicts Cather, “her hair shingled, at a time when long hair was fashionable, and dressed boyishly.”
Throughout Cather’s adult life, her most significant relationships were with women. These included her college friend Louise Pound; the Pittsburgh socialite Isabelle McClung, with whom Cather traveled to Europe; opera singer Olive Fremstad; and most notably, the editor Edith Lewis.
Cather’s friendship with Lewis began in the early 1900s. The two women lived together in a series of apartments in New York City from 1912 until the writer’s death in 1947. From 1913 to 1927, Cather and Lewis had lived at No. 5 Bank Street in Greenwich Village. They had to move as the apartment was to be taken down during construction of the 7th Avenue subway line. Lewis served as the literary trustee for the Cather estate.
In her later life, Cather spent summers on Grand Manan Island, in New Brunswick, Canada, in the Bay of Fundy, where she owned a cottage in Whale Cove. A resolutely private person, Cather destroyed many old drafts, personal papers, and letters. Her will restricted the ability of scholars to quote from those personal papers that remain. Since the 1980s, feminist and other academic writers have explored Cather’s sexual orientation and the influence of her female friendships on her work. Cather is buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.