1873 - 1947

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

– Willa Cather

Pulitzer Prize winning American novelist Willa Cather was born near Winchester, Virginia – but it was the vast expanse of Nebraska, where she grew up, that became the setting for her most-revered works. In 1890, Cather began studying at the University of Nebraska. Upon graduation, she moved to Pittsburgh to work as a magazine editor and high school teacher. It was there that she met Isabelle McClung, with whom she became intimate. Cather was invited to live in the McClung family home where, for the first time, she had a quiet, private, workspace from which she published poetry and short stories that generated critical praise, if not commercial success. In 1905, she moved to New York City to become editor for McClure’s Magazine. It was there that she was advised by friend and mentor (and lesbian author) Sarah Orne Jewett to find her “own quiet center” by writing about the people and places that she had known in Nebraska. Heeding Jewett’s advice, Cather left McClure’s in 1912 to devote herself entirely to penning stories featuring strong female protagonists inspired by the girls and young women who had helped tame the wild land of her youth. Her Nebraska-themed novels included O, Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), My Antonia (1918), One of Ours (1922), and A Lost Lady (1923). She is also noted for The Professor’s House (1925), My Mortal Enemy (1926), Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) – which has been called “one of the greatest gay love stories in 20th Century American Literature” – and Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940). Poor health prevented Cather from much productivity during the 1930’s and 1940’s. She died on April 24, 1947 and is buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Scholarship regarding Cather’s lesbianism began to emerge in the late 1980’s, though some have protested this characterization, aided by Cather’s efforts to seal her records upon her death. However, recently published personal letters suggest a more complete understanding of this complex woman will soon be possible. It is perhaps telling that Edith Lewis – her companion of 42 years – is buried at Cather's side.

Lesson Plan


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated United States Canada

Era/Epoch Progressive Era (1890-1920)

Field(s) of Contribution

Art, Music, Literature & Theater






Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Pulitzer Prize Winner For One of Ours (1923)

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow (1943)

National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal For Fiction (1944)

Willa Cather Foundation Established (1955)

Posthumous Nebraska Hall of Fame Inductee (1962)

U.S. Postal Service Commemorative Stamp Issued (1973)

Willa Cather Half-Ounce Gold Medallion Created by the U.S. Mint (1981)

Posthumous National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Inductee (1986)

Posthumous National Women's Hall of Fame Inductee (1988)

Death Comes For the Archbishop Included in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels (1998)

Virginia Women in History Inaugural Class of Honorees (2000)

Willa Cather Foundation Received a National Endowment of the Humanities Grant (2006)

Posthumous New York Writers Hall of Fame Inductee (2011)


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Original Biography Author
Anthony Milspaugh
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell