A Willa Cather Timeline
Personal Events | Professional Events | World Events
Wilella Sibert Cather, the eldest of Charles and Mary Virginia "Jennie" Cather's seven children, is born on December 7 in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, a small farming community close to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Cather and her parents join her paternal grandparents, William and Caroline, at their farmhouse, Willow Shade, between Back Creek Valley and Winchester, Virginia. The elder Cathers relocate to Nebraska in 1877.
In April Cather's family joins her paternal grandparents on their farm in Nebraska, on a broad plateau between the Little Blue and Republican rivers known as "The Divide." The move helps to shape Cather's perspective on the American pioneer experience.
The Cathers relocate to a small town in the midst of rough prairie. Here Cather meets Annie Sadilek, on whom she models Ántonia in My Ántonia.
|1890:||High School Graduation|
As valedictorian of Red Cloud High School, Cather gives the commencement address "Superstition vs. Investigation," on the importance of scientific investigation throughout history.
|1891:||University of Nebraska|
In the fall, Cather begins classes at the university and serves as literary editor of the student newspaper, The Hesperian.
When Cather graduates from the University of Nebraska, she becomes one of the few women at that time to achieve a college education.
A trip to Chicago to see the Metropolitan Opera Company on tour marks the beginning of Cather's lifelong passion for opera and the divas who dominate it.
While living in Pittsburgh, Cather befriends Isabelle McClung, the rebellious daughter of a wealthy, conservative judge and member of the city's social elite. Isabelle becomes Cather's reader and muse. From 1901 to 1906, Cather lives at the McClung family home.
Accompanied by Isabelle McClung, Cather spends the summer in England and France, making pilgrimages to the birthplaces and graves of artists she admires.
|1906:||New York City|
Cather arrives in New York in the summer to work at McClure's.
Cather first met Edith Lewis, a fellow Nebraskan, on a visit home in 1903. Employed in publishing and advertising herself, Lewis becomes copyeditor, proofreader, and editor of Cather's work. The two will live together in New York until Cather's death in 1947.
On a visit to brother Douglass in the Southwest, Cather "discovers herself," finding renewed creative energy. Thea Kronborg experiences a similar awakening on a visit to Arizona in The Song of the Lark.
|1916:||Isabelle McClung marries|
Cather's confidante marries violinist Jan Hambourg and eventually moves to France. Through letters she and Cather remain close, but their period of collaboration ends.
|1920:||Europe with Edith Lewis|
Cather tours the battlefields and countryside of Europe with Edith Lewis, stopping to visit her cousin G.P. Cather's grave.
Cather and her parents join the Episcopal Church, in which she will be an active member for the rest of her life.
|1928:||Cather's father dies|
In March, Cather's father dies of a heart attack. Her brother Douglass takes their mother to Southern California, where she suffers a stroke.
|1931:||Cather's mother dies|
While Cather is at her cottage on Grand Manan Island, off the coast of Maine, her mother succumbs to complications from her stroke. Cather had regularly visited her mother at the California sanatorium where she lay helpless and speechless for two years.
In March, Isabelle McClung Hambourg returns to the United States to consult American doctors for a kidney disease that proves incurable. Cather spends the year attending to her.
Devastated by her brother's death from a heart attack, Cather does not attend the funeral.
Isabelle McClung Hambourg dies
Cather's friend and muse succumbs to kidney disease in Sorento, Italy.
Cather and her brother had always kept in close contact, and his death severs her last close link to the past.
On April 24, at the age of 73, Cather dies of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. She is buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, on a hillside spot that she had selected. With Alfred A. Knopf, Edith Lewis acts as her literary executor.
|1891:||Cather in print|
Submitted by her teacher without her knowledge, Cather's essay on English essayist Thomas Carlyle appears in the Nebraska State Journal.
|1892:||First short story|
Cather publishes her short story "Peter" in The Mahogany Tree; it later becomes part of My Ántonia.
|1893:||Nebraska State Journal|
Cather becomes a regular contributor to the Nebraska State Journal newspaper, reviewing plays and writing the Sunday arts column "The Passing Show."
|1896:||The Home Monthly|
In June, Cather moves to Pittsburgh to edit the Home Monthly, using a half dozen pen names. A review on November 24 is finally signed "Willa."
|1897:||The Pittsburgh Leader|
In July the Home Monthly is sold, and Cather returns to Red Cloud. By September, she is back in Pittsburgh, writing play and book reviews at the Pittsburgh Leader.
In the late spring, Cather resigns from the Pittsburgh Leader. Cather lives in Washington for a few months and works as a translator and a correspondent for Pittsburgh and Lincoln papers.
In March, Cather accepts a position at Pittsburgh's Central High School, hoping that a teacher's schedule will allow her more time to write. She often refers to Pittsburgh as the birthplace of her writing career.
Although Cather considered fiction a more elevated genre than poetry, her first book is this collection of 27 poems, whose publication she financed herself.
|1905:||The Troll Garden|
S.S. McClure, publisher of McClure's magazine, solicits and publishes Cather's first short story collection, which deals with the relationship between gender and art.
S.S. McClure travels to Pittsburgh to offer Cather a job at his magazine, where she will work until 1911. She spends much of her first year with the magazine in Boston working on a profile of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science.
|1908:||Sarah Orne Jewett|
Jewett, a native of Maine and celebrated practitioner of "local color" writing, becomes Cather's friend and mentor, influencing her writing about her native Nebraska.
While on a leave of absence from McClure's, Cather officially resigns to pursue writing full time.
Serialized in McClure's under the title Alexander's Masquerade, Cather's first novel is then published in book form. The work is heavily influenced by Henry James.
Cather displays the feminism and realism that become integral to her work in O Pioneers!, the story of an immigrant woman's struggle to save her Nebraska farm. She dedicates the novel to Sarah Orne Jewett.
My Autobiography by S.S. McClure
Cather's ghostwritten account of her former boss's life story is serialized in McClure's.
Interviewing Olive Fremstad for McClure's, Cather is impressed by the opera star's confidence and artistry, and the two become friends. Fremstad is the inspiration for Thea Kronborg in The Song of the Lark.
|1915:||The Song of the Lark|
Cather combines her own experience with that of opera singer Olive Fremstad in this portrait of a female artist's struggle and success.
On a visit home, Cather is inspired to write a new novel, which will become My Ántonia, a story of an immigrant woman's struggles in late 19th-century Nebraska.
|1917:||Letters from the front|
Moved by the letters her cousin G.P. Cather wrote to his mother before he was killed in action in World War I, Cather resolves to make him the subject of her next novel, One of Ours.
After spending 1917 in New Hampshire writing the book that will become her most famous work, Cather publishes My Ántonia, which is known for its vivid descriptions of the vast prairie landscape.
|1920:||Meets Alfred A. Knopf|
Cather introduces herself to publisher and editor Alfred A. Knopf, and they begin a 27-year publishing partnership.
|1921:||One of Ours|
One of Ours is Cather's first book published by Knopf. Based on her cousin's experience in World War I, the novel contrasts the harsh realities of farm life with the cultural world of Europe.
One of Ours receives the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and establishes Cather as one of America's foremost female writers.
A Lost Lady
First serialized in Century, A Lost Lady appears in book form. Based on the life of a former "great lady" of Red Cloud, the novel tells of a talented woman whose personal transformation mirrors that of the American frontier.
|1925:||The Professor's House|
First serialized in Collier's, The Professor's House continues Cather's exploration of the role of place in an artist's life.
On a visit to Santa Fe, Cather discovers a 1908 book about Archbishop Lamy of New Mexico and his vicar Father Machebeuf, which becomes the inspiration for Death Comes for the Archbishop.
A Lost Lady film
Warner Brothers acquires the screen rights to A Lost Lady for $10,000. Irene Rich and George Fawcett star in the silent production.
|1927:||Death Comes for the Archbishop|
Cather's most popular work yet, this novel is considered emblematic of her new focus on moral and spiritual concerns.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters, honors Cather for Death Comes for the Archbishop.
|1931:||Shadows on the Rock|
A visit to Quebec is the genesis for Shadows on the Rock. Juxtaposing the New World with the Old, the novel returns to themes Cather first addressed in One of Ours.
|1933:||Prix Femina Etranger|
Cather receives the French literary prize honoring foreign works for Shadows on the Rock, which chronicles French immigrants in Quebec.
In this novel, Cather returns to a theme she explored in The Song of the Lark: the price a woman pays for artistic expression.
|1940:||Sapphira and the Slave Girl|
While at Grand Manan Island, Maine, Cather finishes this novel set during the final years of slavery in the Shenandoah Valley of Cather's early childhood.
Cather receives a gold medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, founded in 1898 to further literature and the fine arts in the United States.
|1948:||The Old Beauty and Others|
Cather's final collection of three short stories is published posthumously by Knopf.
|1870:||Brooklyn Bridge opens|
The first bridge to use steel cable wire, the Brooklyn Bridge is a brilliant feat of 19th-century engineering that links Brooklyn and Manhattan over the East River.
|1876:||Alexander Graham Bell|
Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone.
Custer's Last Stand
Unaware that the Sioux outnumber his troops by the thousands, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer leads himself and 264 men to their death at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana Territory.
|1877:||Rutherford B. Hayes|
Hayes is inaugurated as 19th president of the United States. To end a dispute over his election, he promises to withdraw Union troops from the South, ending Reconstruction.
|1879:||Edison invents light bulb|
Thomas Edison perfects the carbon-filament lamp, which is both less expensive and longer lasting than previous electric bulbs.
|1883:||Metropolitan Opera opens|
Wealthy New Yorkers including J.P. Morgan finance the construction of a new opera house, which will become the world's premiere opera venue.
Richard Wagner dies
The German dramatic composer (b. 1813), who conceived of operas as music dramas in which music, staging, and singing are woven together into a taut and complex work of art, dies in Venice.
Mark Twain publishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The controversial, often censored story of a runaway white boy and an escaped black slave becomes a classic of American literature.
Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman publishes his groundbreaking collection of free-verse poems that celebrates transcendentalism, spirituality, and physical pleasure.
The U.S. Census Bureau declares the American frontier officially closed. There are two people per square mile in the West, enough to consider it "settled."
The two national women's suffrage organizations unite in one major organization, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Great Northern Railroad
Extending further north than the transcontinental Union Pacific, this railroad connects St. Paul to Seattle, thus encouraging further settlement.
|1892:||Ellis Island opens|
From 1892 to 1924, an estimated 17 million immigrants pass through the United States's major immigration station.
The Yellow Wallpaper
This story starkly portrays the mental breakdown of a young wife. Its author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, becomes a leading lecturer, writer, and publisher in the American women's movement.
Henry Ford builds his first car. By 1913, his assembly line will be fully operational, mass-producing affordable vehicles for average Americans.
Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi accomplishes the first successful wireless transmission of radio waves.
First silent film
Auguste and Louis Lumière show the first motion picture in Paris, Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory.
|1896:||Rural Free Delivery|
The United States Post Office makes mail service widely available, providing isolated Great Plains settlers with a much-needed link to the outside world.
|1897:||Records go on sale|
Emile Berliner's flat discs soon replace Thomas Edison's wax cylinders as the most popular format for recorded music.
The United States and Spain go to war after Cuba revolts against Spain's colonial policy. After U.S. victory, Cuba gains independence, and Spain cedes Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to America.
|1903:||First successful airplane flight|
In a North Carolina field, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright make the first successful engine-powered airplane flight.
Olive Fremstad's lusty portrayal of Richard Strauss's biblical teenager scandalizes proper patrons at the Metropolitan Opera. The show is closed after a single performance.
|1909:||Freud in America|
In a lecture tour of the United States, Sigmund Freud introduces the concept of psychoanalysis to large segments of the American population.
Birth of the NAACP
In New York, a group of black and white intellectuals and activists found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), originally called the National Negro Committee.
|1910:||Great Plains settlement|
The number of farms triples from two million in 1860 to more than six million in 1910. In states like Nebraska and Kansas, more acres are put under cultivation in these two decades than in the previous 250 years.
|1912:||H.M.S Titanic sinks|
On her maiden voyage, the H.M.S Titanic sinks after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic; 1,513 lives are lost.
With the introduction of parcel post, residents of the Great Plains and the West can receive packages from mail-order companies such as Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck.
After taking over the project from France some three decades earlier, America completes construction of the Panama Canal. President Theodore Roosevelt sees the Canal as a necessity for naval power and security, not for commerce, as the French had.
Archduke Francis Ferdinand assassinated
On June 28, Austrian archduke Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo. His murder sparks the beginning of war in Europe.
|1917:||America enters the war|
Unable to maintain a position of neutrality, America enters the "Great War" on the side of the Allies (France, Britain, and Russia). The war will end with Germany's surrender on November 11, 1918, with an estimated casualty rate of 10 million.
Congress ratifies Prohibition, which bans the manufacture and transport of liquor. It will be repealed with the 21st Amendment of 1929.
The 19th Amendment is passed, giving U.S. women the right to vote.
By November 1922, there are 564 licensed radio broadcasters in the United States. America turns on the radio for music, news, and entertainment.
The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, introduces sound to motion pictures.
|1929:||Stock market crash|
On October 24, the U.S. stock market crashes. The country sinks into the Great Depression.
|1931:||Opera on the radio|
Hansel and Gretel is the first Metropolitan Opera performance broadcast in its entirety over the radio.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president in a landslide victory for the first of four terms.
Created in 1935 under Roosevelt's New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provides work for millions of Americans during the Great Depression.
|1937:||Amelia Earhart vanishes|
Earhart vanishes over the Pacific near the finish of what would have been the first solo around-the-world flight by a woman pilot.
|1939:||War in Europe|
World War II begins in Europe. It will not end until the Japanese surrender in September of 1945.
|1941:||Pearl Harbor attacked|
On December 7, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The following day, America officially enters the war.
TV broadcasting begins in the United States. Viewing does not become widespread until after the war.
|1945:||War in Europe ends|
On May 8, V.E. Day, the war in Europe ends.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
In August, with the war still raging in the Pacific, the United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
On April 15, Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American since 1884 to sign a contract with a major baseball club, the Brooklyn Dodgers. He is named National League Rookie of the Year.
Capitalizing on the nation's fear of communist advances in Eastern Europe and China, Senator Joseph McCarthy begins his crusade against communism in the United States.
With Soviet backing, North Korea invades South Korea. The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, supports South Korea, establishing a precedent for U.S. containment of communism.
Essays + Interviews | Novel to Film | A Cather Timeline
Opera in America | Prairie Settlement | Cast + Credits
Links and Bibliography | Teacher's Guide | The Forum
About The Series |
The American Collection |
Schedule & Season |
Feature Library |
Learning Resources |