More photos of Willa

I’ve added a few more photographs of Willa Cather, younger and older.  In her biography of Cather, Sharon O’Brien writes about how Willa dressed in the late 1880’s and early 90’s:

Willa Cather’s unorthodox dress and manner brought her “considerable notoriety” and made her the subject of “much talk around town,” remembers Elmer Thomas in his history of Webster County [1888], where he gives us our only eyewitness account. “I remember Willa Cather most for her masculine habits and dress,” he writes. “This characteristic in those days was far more noticeable because it was very seldom that women appeared dressed other than in strict feminine attire.” But she was impervious to criticism, he continues, and “even boasted that she preferred the masculine garb” as well as the “masculine sex.”

Thomas was evidently disconcerted by his cross-dressing neighbor: “To me, she was never attractive,” he explains, “and I remember her mostly for her boyish makeup and the serious stare with which she met you. It was as if she said, ‘stay your distance buddy, I have your number.’ Enough, I did.” Other young men seem to have kept a wary distance as well, for, Thomas reports, Cather did not have a “romantic love entanglement” with any of Red Cloud’s eligible bachelors. Even though Cather’s male role-playing lasted only four years [age 14-18], her overturning of feminine norms was so unsettling that the talk endured and became legend. When I [Sharon O’Brien] first visited Red Cloud in 1973, I was told that Cather had been a “hermaphrodite” who “wore men’s shoes–had ’em made special.”

(Thanks to Katheine Messina for collecting much of this material for us.)


One thought on “More photos of Willa

  1. RE: Photo with Confederate cap: Cather’s maternal uncle William was killed in the Civil War fighting on the Confederate side. Cather saw him as an example of a male hero. I believe her father’s family had Northern roots.

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