On this day in 1873, Willa Cather is born in Winchester, Virginia. Cather was the first of seven children born to an old Virginia family dating back to colonial times. Her maternal grandfather served several terms in the Virginia House of Delegates. Her grandmother was a strong, courageous woman who had a powerful influence on Cather and served as the model for several of her characters.
Cather’s family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska, when she was a child, and for the rest of her life she wrote about the deep conflict she felt between East and West. While books like O Pioneers (1913) and My Antonia (1918) celebrated the spirit of the frontier, in other works, such as The Song of the Lark (1915), she explores the stifling effects of small-town life on creative young minds.
After graduating from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1895, Cather moved to Pittsburgh to be an editor for a family magazine. She later became an editor for the daily paper in Pittsburgh. In 1901, she became a teacher and stuck with it for several years while she published her first book of verse, April Twilights (1903), and her first collection of stories, The Troll Garden (1905). She moved to New York to take a job as managing editor of McClure’s, a monthly publication, and began writing novels. Her first, Alexander’s Bridge, appeared in 1912, but she didn’t find her true voice until O Pioneers. Cather won a Pulitzer in 1922 for One of Ours. Her 1927 novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop, the story of two French-Canadian priests who build a cathedral in the wilds of New Mexico, was also well received. Cather lived most of her adult life in New York, writing novels until she died in 1947.