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Engaging with the political: Willa Cather, “McClure's Magazine”, and the production of national rhetoric

Amy Ahearn, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This project provides an examination of the magazine industry in which Willa Cather worked and published; more specifically, it focuses on McClure’s Magazine and the Progessivist rhetoric Cather produced concerning immigration, women’s pay, ward politics, and war. Cather’s early political writing runs as an undercurrent in her major novels, especially The Song of the Lark, My Ántonia, and One of Ours. In considering Cather's "work," I uncover and define Cather's duties as managing editor for McClure's Magazine (1906-1911). Part of my goal is to address concepts of "authorship" within the magazine industry. In most cases, ownership and authorship of writing were determined by legal contracts and by designated bylines. The working culture of the magazine office, however, relied on multi-authored and ghost-authored texts. Cather, for example, almost never carried a byline for the magazine, despite the fact that she spent half of each workweek writing articles for McClure's. Thus, her writing oftentimes was not equated with authorship, at least in the public arena. In addition to studying issues of authorship, I examine Cather’s role as a rhetor, or public speaker. As managing editor for McClure’s, she assumed the corporate voice of one of the leading forums of public opinion. In this role, she organized and edited articles on social reform issues, including immigration, prostitution, and labor, in addition to international issues, including the arms build-up between Britain and Germany and the issue of torture for Russian political prisoners. In short, in order to understand her position as a rhetor, we must understand the political and social programs supported within the pages of the journal. Cather’s role as rhetor takes on overt political significance. Twenty years ago, the general assumption within Cather scholarship was that Cather was staunchly apolitical; in the last ten years, however, more political and cultural inquiries have emerged. My research resituates Cather’s writing within its highly politicized context, thereby revealing the author’s participation in, and production of, national Progressive rhetoric.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Ahearn, Amy, "Engaging with the political: Willa Cather, “McClure's Magazine”, and the production of national rhetoric" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3309216.