Annotations from the Archives: The Cather Family Library
The Cather Family Library, as it has come to be called in the last decade or more, is another part of the National Willa Cather Center’s collection of books associated with the extended Cather family. The Cather Family Library, however, provides especially rich insights into the mind and imagination of Willa Cather. A number of books in the collection contain personalization that denotes a book belonged to Willa Cather personally, who sometimes used "Willie" or "William" when marking her copies.
Since Red Cloud did not have a public library until 1917, the Cather family's extensive library indicates a comfortable financial position, as well as the value they placed on reading and education. Several candid photographs of the Cather children reading together were taken inside and on the grounds of the Willa Cather Childhood Home. Charles Cather, Willa Cather's father, was elected the first president of Red Cloud's Auld Library board.
The Cather Family Library contains 404 books and numerous issues of magazines owned by the Charles Cather family. These books were a part of both of the family's Red Cloud homes between 1884–1936. Some of the books were published far earlier and may have traveled with the adult members of the family from Virginia. After the sale of the Cather family home in Red Cloud in the 1930s, these books and magazines were with Elsie Cather. Several of the later items in this collection are labeled with Elsie Cather's name and Lincoln address.
It should be made clear that these are certainly not the only books that belonged to the Cather family, nor to Willa Cather herself. We know that she lent books and gave books as gifts; some volumes from her personal library—especially from her adult life—have ended up in other major repositories or divided amongst other family members. Our John E. (Jack) and Irma Cather Collection, among others, also contain books that belonged to Charles and Mary Virginia Cather and their children, cousin Bess Seymour, and Rachel Boak, Willa Cather's grandmother. While not all items from our collections have been digitized, our new searchable online collections page is making it increasingly easy to explore the breadth of our unique collections in Red Cloud.
Our book collections are open to researchers; you can book an appointment to visit the archives by filling out our online form.