Willa Cather Foundation

Willa Cather Foundation

Red Cloud Opera House, now the foundation's headquarters, in Red Cloud, Nebraska
Founded 1955 (1955)
Founder Local volunteers, under direction of Mildred R. Bennett
Type Non-profit
Website willacather.org

The Willa Cather Foundation is an American not-for-profit organization, headquartered in Red Cloud, Nebraska, dedicated to preserving the archives and settings associated with Willa Cather (18731947), a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and promoting the appreciation of her work.[1]


The organization was founded in 1955[2] in Red Cloud, the small town that appears frequently in her novels and stories under a variety of names.[3]

Cather, born in Virginia in 1873, moved with her family to rural Webster County, Nebraska, in 1883; in late 1884 the family resettled in the county seat of Red Cloud, where Cather lived until beginning her college studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1890.[4]

Established as the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial,[5] the foundation was organized by a group of local volunteers under the direction of Mildred R. Bennett, a South Dakota native who had originally come to Webster County in 1932 as a schoolteacher and eventually became an important early figure in Cather studies.[6] Bennett's The World of Willa Cather, published in 1951, was the first full-length biography to be published following Cather's death in 1947, and remains a useful resource for studying Cather's Nebraska milieu.[7]

Early focus

Narrow four-story brick building with extensive stonework around doors and windows; "Willa Cather State Historic Site" painted on side
Farmers' and Merchants' Bank building in Red Cloud, Nebraska

Acknowledging the scope of its activities in its early years, in 1965 the organization renamed itself the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation.[8] Under Bennett's direction, the foundation's primary early focus was the preservation and restoration of sites in and around Red Cloud that figure in Cather's life and work.

By 1976, the foundation's properties included:

  • Cather's childhood home
  • Farmers' and Merchants' Bank building, erected by Silas Garber, the prototype for the Captain Forrester figure in the novel A Lost Lady (1923)
  • Burlington Depot, which appears throughout Cather's work
  • St. Juliana Falconieri Catholic Church, where "Ántonia" of the novel My Ántonia (1918)  in real life, Cather's friend Annie Sadilek Pavelka  was married
  • Grace Episcopal Church, which Cather and her parents joined in 1922, and which houses a pair of stained-glass windows donated by Cather in memory of her parents
  • Pavelka Farmstead, the rural setting for the final scenes in My Ántonia[9]

In 1978, the Nebraska State Historical Society assumed ownership of these properties and the archival materials amassed by the foundation to that date.[10] The foundation continues to manage these sites and keep them open for visitors.

Additional historic sites maintained by the foundation and owned by it outright include:

  • Miner house, which was the home of the Harling family in My Ántonia[11]
  • Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, a 608-acre (2.46 km2) virgin mixed-grass prairie five miles (8 km) south of Red Cloud[12]
  • Red Cloud Opera House (built in 1885), which prominently featured in the novels The Song of the Lark (1915) and Lucy Gayheart (1935) and now the foundation's headquarters[13]


Since 2007, the organization has operated as simply the Willa Cather Foundation, or the Cather Foundation, directed by a thirty-member board of governors including scholars, educators, and professionals from throughout the United States.[14]

It publishes the Willa Cather Newsletter & Review, a journal of scholarly articles and foundation news, and holds an annual spring conference in Red Cloud. With rotating academic partners, the foundation hosts a biennial International Cather Seminar for scholars and Cather readers. It continues to offer year-round tours in Red Cloud and host visiting scholars and researchers. The foundation awards the Norma Ross Walter scholarship, given annually to a female graduate of a Nebraska high school intending to major in English. Since the 2003 restoration of the Red Cloud Opera House, which houses a theater and gallery, the foundation also operates as a regional arts center.


  1. . Willa Cather Foundation. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
  2. The Willa Cather Foundation.
  3. Woodress, James Leslie (1987). Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 46.
  4. Marilee Lindemann, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Willa Cather. Cambridge University Press. pp. xivxv.
  5. Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial News Letter, Volume 1 Number 1.
  6. "Mildred Bennett". Willa Cather Foundation. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
  7. Thacker, Robert. "'A Critic Who Was Worthy of Her': The Writing of Willa Cather: A Critical Biography", in Willa Cather as Cultural Icon (Cather Studies 7). p. 306.
  8. Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial News Letter IX.2, Fall 1965.
  9. Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial News Letter: Childhood home: IV.2, Fall 1960; Farmers' and Merchants' Bank: III.2, Fall 1959; Burlington Depot: IX.2, Fall 1965; St. Juliana: XII.1, Spring 1968; Grace Episcopal: XIII.2, Fall 1969; Pavelka farmstead: XX.1, Spring 1976.
  10. Willa Cather Newsletter & Review. XXII.2. Fall 1978.
  11. Willa Cather Newsletter & Review. XLVI.1. Summer 2002.
  12. Willa Cather Newsletter & Review. XLIX.3. Spring 2006.
  13. Willa Cather Newsletter & Review. XLVII.1. Summer 2003.
  14. "About the Willa Cather Foundation". Willa Cather Foundation. Retrieved October 1, 2009.

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