We were purposely vague about the year of birth of Willa Gather in introducing the article she wrote about the fortieth anniversary of Brownville, Nebraska, in the October, 1970, issue (“Ghost Town on the River”). However, Virginia Faulkner, editor of the University of Nebraska Press, insists that there is “no uncertainty” at all about the birth date; it was December 7, 1873:
Miss Gather started fudging on her age when she began to be well known as a novelist, and for years all sources listed her as born in 1876. But as long ago as 1951 Mildred Bennett, in The World of Willa Cather , proved incontrovertibly that 1873 was the year (birth certificate, letter from Charles Gather announcing the event, and family Bible). The family Bible is now in the restored Gather home in Red Cloud, and on the birth-record page one can see that Miss Gather made a game attempt to change Wilella to Willa and 1873 to 1876. All our Gather publications and most recent scholarship in the field give the date correctly, and gradually standard reference works are making the correction, but the wrong date is still given in a flock of them. Perhaps when the Gather centennial is celebrated in 1973 they’ll pull up their socks.