Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Do You Know Who Willa Cather Is?

If you follow my blog (and Mom and Sarah – I do thank you for being loyal readers…) you know I LOVE books.  I love to read books and if the book happens to be antique, it is even better (feel free to catch up with  Today I would like to pose a question to you: Do you know who Willa Cather is?

Before you scramble to Wikipedia, let me save you the trouble (  I would wager that unless you are 1: From Nebraska 2: An American literature PhD, or 3: A rabid reader like myself, you probably have no idea.  Willa Cather, if you have not surmised by now, is an American author from Nebraska.  She wrote in the early 20th Century about life during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries on the plains.  Some of her most well-known works are My Antonia and O Pioneers.

I realize that her subject matter might be kind of a bore to most people.  I enjoy her books and recommend them.  However, you should realize I love antiques, I love history, I think the Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger is AWESOME, and I can’t get enough of “Downton Abbey”.  Now you know how I roll.  Even if you don’t read Miss Cather’s books, you should get to know her.  

I first learned about Willa Cather in elementary school, which I attended in Nebraska.  Nebraska has so few “celebrities” that its few well-known people are taught in school (at least they were in the early 80’s).  In the late 80’s my father took a job in upstate New York.  We all know school children like to tease what is different, and I was labeled as a “Cornhusker” for the rest of my school days.  I wore this badge with pride.  Nebraska is known as the “Good Life”.  There is a reason for this:  It’s a well-kept secret how awesome Nebraska really is.

In the 10th or 11th grade, I had an English assignment to read two books by an American author and write a report on said author.  Ah-ha!  Yet another way to wear my Cornhusker badge with honor.  I decided to do a report on Willa Cather.  I must admit, at this point all I really knew was that she had written some books and was from Nebraska.  Good enough for me.

Let me tell you, that research was eye opening and mind blowing.  I’ve always had a high opinion of women.  I believe this was shaped by the independent women in my family.  I soon learned Willa Cather was a woman to be admired.  Let me tell you why:

·         In 1894 Willa graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln with a B.A. in English.  I have read she was admitted to the University under her alias of William.  In a time when the societal expectation for women was to marry and have children, Willa bucked the system and went to a University and received her degree.  With this achievement alone, she deserves rock star status (in my humble opinion).

·         During her time at UNL, she is known to have worn her hair short, once again bucking the system.  This was 30 years ahead of the short flapper cuts seen in the 1920’s.

·         Willa never married.  There is academic disagreement as to why (Was she a lesbian?  Was she an independent woman?).  I personally don’t care why.  I admire her for having the courage to stand on her own and make her own way in the world when few women did.

·         Willa made her own career as a writer and became a published novelist.

I find what Willa Cather did with her life to be admirable.  One must keep in mind she did these things in a time when Women’s Suffrage had yet to be granted by the 19th Amendment (1920) and decades ahead of the Women’s Rights/Equality movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I think it took a very strong, independent spirit to achieve what Willa Cather did in her time.  For this spirit of independence, I admire her.

Until Tomorrow - Melissa


  1. I read My Antonia in high school English, and I remember that there were a lot of strong female characters in it -- and now I know why!

    Willa truly was awesome. Thanks for sharing her story. I'm always thrilled to read about unconventional women, especially when these women achieved what they achieved when it was much harder to do so. :)

    I'm happy to be a blog reader!

  2. I just got done re-reading My Antonia and I am now re-reading O Pioneers. I understand the books better now that I have a greater understanding of the world. It's making me consider re-reading some other high school books (of mice and men, the jungle). I feel like I am getting more out of the books on this read.