Willa Cather: Her Life and Love

Willa Cather: Author, Scholar, Editor, Lesbian?!

Willa Siebert Cather was born in Black Creek Valley, Virginia, near Winchester, on December 7, 1873. She and her family lived in or near Winchester until Willa was nine years old, at which time, they moved to Webster County, Nebraska. After living on a ranch for 18 months, the Cather family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska. Cather called it a "scrappy western town". Cather entered the University of Nebraska as a secondary preparatory student in 1890. It was here than she began to get her fiction published, and also worked as a drama critic for the Lincoln Journal. After graduating in 1895, Cather moved to Pittsburgh, the setting of Paul's Case.

In Pittsburgh, Cather worked as a journalist, a high school teacher for a year and, in 1905, published a collection of short stories called"The Troll Garden." Paul's Case  was based on a real Pittsburgh high school student's suicide (Cather's Obituary). The boy's parents objected to the story, which was first published in a collection of Cather's short stories entitled Youth and the Bright Medusa.

Afterwards she moved to New York to work as an editor, and later as managing editor for "McClure's" magazine. It was there that she met Sarah Orne Jewett, who told her to remove herself from journalism and "to find your own quiet center of life, and write from that to the world."(Cather's entry in "Famous Nebraska Authors")

Cather began publishing novels set in the American West including (but not necessarily limited to):

(Also from Cather's entry in "Famous Nebraska Authors")

In reference to her work, Cather once said:
"It is the inexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the overtone divined by the ear, but not heard by it, the verbal mood, the emotional aura of the fact or the thing or the deed, that gives high quality to the novel or drama, as well to the poetry itself." (The Queer History Homepage)

According to several sources, Willa Cather was a life-long lesbian. According to The Queer History Homepage, Cather even went so far as to pose as her imaginary twin brother, William, while a student at the University of Nebraska. She does look pretty butch in her college photo, hmm?

After moving to Pittsburgh Cather met and fell in love with a 16 year old girl. Cather would have been in her early twenties at this time. The girl, Isabelle McClung, later married a man, but Cather and McClung kept in touch over the next 40 years. According to Quistory, Cather's heart belonged to McClung for the rest of her life, even though Cather's closest relationship was with her lifetime companion, an editor by the name of Edith Lewis. The two lived together in Greenwich Village for forty years, until their deaths. They arranged to be buried together when they died.

Back to The Paul's Case Homepage

Works Cited

(Cather's Obituary) {Visited on March 10, 1997}

Cather's entry in ( "Famous Nebraska Authors") {Visited on March 10, 1997}

(The Queer History Homepage) {Visited on March 10, 1997}

Photo Credits

Portrait of Willa Cather {Visited on March 10, 1997}

Silhouette of Cather {Visited on March 10, 1997}

Cather's Signature {Visited on March 10, 1997}

"William" Cather photo {Visited on March 10, 1997}