Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

By Melissa J. Homestead; Guy J. Reynolds | Go to book overview

7 Cather’s “Office Wives” Stories
and Modern Women’s Work

AMBER HARRIS LEICHNER

“Miss Willa Cather, the editor of the Home Monthly, is … such a thoroughly up-to-date woman she certainly should be mentioned among the pioneers in woman’s advancement” (2), wrote Jeanette Barbour in an 1897 interview with the up-and-coming young editor. Barbour’s short interview appeared in the Pittsburg Press and placed Cather’s profile alongside those of other notably employed women, including architects, an embalmer, a dentist, and a real estate dealer (Bohlke 1). Although Cather was less than a year into her position at the Home Monthly, her editorial work was already celebrated as a predictor of her future professional success: “Miss Cather is just beginning her career, but she is doing it with the true progressive western spirit, that fears neither responsibility nor work, and it will be a career worth watching. To go off, when one is but twenty-one, into an entirely new part of the country and undertake to establish and edit a new magazine requires plenty of ‘grit’—a quality as valuable in a business woman as in a business man” (Barbour 2–3).

Barbour’s brief profile documents how Cather’s early success fit into a wider context of female achievement and highlights her outsider persona as a westerner in the urban East. Notions of Cather’s “western spirit” and “grit” would become staples of

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