Willa Cather’s nephew leaves $5.8M to UNL

Digital Humanities

Ashley Washburn, May 4, 2016 | View original publication

Willa Cather’s nephew leaves $5.8M to UNL

The nephew of renowned author Willa Cather has bequeathed $5.8 million to support leading Cather initiatives at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Charles E. Cather left an estate gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation to create endowed funds that will provide annual support for the university’s many Cather initiatives. The funds will be used collaboratively by UNL Libraries, the Willa Cather Archive, the Department of English and the Cather Project.

Andrew Jewell, editor of the Willa Cather Archive and professor at UNL Libraries, said the gift allows UNL to continue its long tradition of scholarship and teaching on the work of Willa Cather, an alumna of the University of Nebraska.

“Most importantly, the gift lets us build on the university’s tradition and enables us to grow in new directions, particularly in ways that bring the values and insights of the humanities into the broader community,” Jewell said. “Cather is a writer who cared deeply about the human experience, in all of its diverse forms, and her work opens us up to the broader world and connects us to one another. Our stewardship of this gift will honor that quality in her art.”

The gift will enable the university to focus on various Cather programs and initiatives, including:

  • Support for digital resources that are either scholarly or educational, the Cather special collections and public programs that team with other organizations on Cather events and community outreach;
  • Student support in the form of stipends or awards for undergraduate and graduate students studying Willa Cather;
  • Support for the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition, the major scholarly publication of Cather’s work published in partnership with the Cather Project and the University of Nebraska Press;
  • Support for the university’s scholarly programming on Cather, such as conferences and seminars, as well as assistance on Cather-related creative activities, such as collaborations with musicians and other artists.

“The beauty of the gift is it allows (UNL) Libraries and the English department to pursue a wide and interdisciplinary array of ventures that will be of interest to both scholars and the wider community, both locally and on a national scale,” said Guy Reynolds, professor of English and director of the Cather Project at UNL. “The University of Nebraska is where Charles Cather’s aunt was educated, so he was of course interested in her roots here and in the decades of work this university has done on her literary works and life.”

Katherine Walter, chair of digital initiatives and special collections for UNL Libraries, said: “The university deeply appreciates this most generous gift from the Charles Cather estate. It will ensure we can further build Cather collections and programming for the university and the public for years to come.”

Founded in 2002 by the UNL Department of English, the Cather Project supports research and teaching that focuses on the life and work of Willa Cather. The Willa Cather Archive, sponsored by the UNL Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, aims to create a rich, useful and accessible digital site for the study of Cather’s life and writings.

Charles Cather also donated to the University of Nebraska his personal property related to his aunt that contained her manuscripts, including the beginning of her last novel, letters, medals and inscribed first editions of her work. These items were publicly announced by the university in 2011 shortly after Charles Cather’s death.

Charles Cather, an attorney who attended the University of Nebraska for a few years in the early 1940s, was the son of James D. Cather and Ethel May Garber Cather, who were Willa Cather’s brother and sister-in-law. He was born in Nebraska on Feb. 2, 1923, and died in Long Beach, California, on March 14, 2011.

Willa Cather is best known for her short stories, essays and novels that focused on her Nebraska experience, her early years in Virginia, her life in New York and Pittsburgh and her travels to New Mexico, Canada and Europe.

The University of Nebraska has the largest Cather archive in the world. The author graduated from the university in 1895 and died in 1947. Her novels, such as “O Pioneers,” “My Antonia” and “Song of the Lark,” recognized frontier life on the Great Plains. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for “One of Ours.”

In addition to Charles Cather, many others have made significant donations of Cather’s works to UNL over the years, including Philip and Helen Cather Southwick, Willa’s niece and her husband; children of Roscoe and Meta Cather, Willa’s brother and sister-in-law; the family of George Cather Ray, Willa’s second cousin; and Cather scholars.

Campus News English University Libraries University of Nebraska Foundation