New Willa Cather Exhibit at The New York Society Library

This fall I had planned on doing a walking tour of Willa Cather sites in Manhattan, but a foot injury has temporarily put the kibosh on long walks for me. However, last week I was able to make it to the new Willa Cather exhibit that recently opened at The New York Society Library, after which I took a short walk to see Cather’s last apartment building.

Willa Cather Exhibit at The New York Society Library (
The New York Society Library

“The New York World of Willa Cather” exhibit at The New York Society Library is open to the public from October 23, 2017 through August 31, 2018.

The New York Society Library - Entrance (
Once upon a time, this was a home. Can you imagine this being your foyer?

The library building was originally a private home. The home was built in 1917 for John & Catherine Rogers. According to the 1920 census, they employed ten servants. Learn more about the home here.

The New York Society Library - Circulation (
The new books display and circulation area as viewed from the staircase.

The new books display and circulation area as viewed from the main staircase. The reference room is to the left and library offices are to the right.

Willa Cather Exhibit at The New York Society Library (
The Cather exhibit on the second floor.

The new exhibit is the first to highlight Cather’s relationship with the New York Society Library. Cather and her partner Edith Lewis became members in 1928 when the library was at its previous location at 109 University Place (Herman Melville was a patron). Comprised of three large posters and three display cases, the exhibit features books by or about Cather and some that were instrumental in her research. There are also some letters and — perhaps the neatest thing of all — Cather and Lewis’ “charging cards” — the record of each book they checked out, including the date it was lent and the date returned.

Willa Cather Exhibit at The New York Society Library (
The exhibit focuses on Cather in NYC and her relationship with the library.

Notice in the background the art on the walls and the bust. The library is full of beautiful works of art.

Willa Cather Exhibit at The New York Society Library - Cather Letter to Dorothy Canfield Fisher (
A letter from Cather to her old friend Dorothy Canfield Fisher, October 14, 1940.

This letter is included in The Selected Letters of Willa Cather edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, which I highly recommend if you’d like to get to know Cather.

Stairwell at The New York Society (
The original building has five floors.

The original home has five floors. A librarian gave me a basic tour of the library — the members reading room, a work area (the Hornblower Room), private study rooms, and the stacks, which are contained in a twelve-story addition built behind the home when it was converted into the library.

Reference Room - The New York Society Library (
The reference room and its handsome card catalog.

Also in the reference room is a long work table, a wall of books, and multiple computers to access the electronic catalog and other resources. The public is allowed to use this room and may even request books for use in this room. Access to the rest of the library and checkout privileges are for members only.

The New York World of Willa Cather at The New York Society Library (
Exhibit catalog

After the tour of the library, I sat in the reference room to rest my foot and read the exhibit catalog, which I purchased. It features an Introduction by curator Harriet Shapiro, an essay by Andrew Jewell, and photos of Cather.

A member was hovering in the reference room, intently watching the clock. We exchanged a bit of small talk. He informed me that I was there at the perfect time as they served tea every day at 3 pm. Within a few minutes a loud, but pleasant bell chimed several times throughout the library at the same time an employee wheeled a tea cart into the reference room. A few scholars left their labors and ventured in for a spot of tea. However very civilized.

Founders of The New York Society Library 1754 (

The New York Society Library has had five locations since it was founded in 1754. It has been in its current home since 1937. Read about its fascinating history here.

Willa Cather's Last Apartment in NYC 570 Park Ave (

I left the library and took a walk down Park Avenue to see Willa Cather’s last NYC apartment at 570 Park Avenue. It is just shy of a mile from the library. Cather and Lewis took a quiet apartment at the back of this handsome building in December 1932. Cather died here in 1947. She was 71. Edith Lewis lived to be 90 years old and also died in the apartment in 1972.

If you’re in the area, do stop in to see this unique exhibit celebrating Willa Cather and her relationship with New York and the New York Society Library.

The New York World of Willa Cather at The New York Society Library Through August 31, 2018 (

The New York Society Library
53 E. 79th Street
New York, NY 10075


  1. This is a nice post with lovely photographs and I enjoyed reading about both the exhibit and the Society Library. I won’t be able to visit in person, but your photos are a great substitute!

  2. Is the card catalog fully functional or just kept as is for display? I miss card catalogs! the soulless blinking terminal will never win me. the velvety texture of the cards made that way by so many hands unknown and the happy happenstance of brownsing forward and back, or just randomly dipping in. Sigh, guess i am just hopelessly mired in the past (but loving it!)

    • As a librarian I don’t really miss them at all Gina in Alabama! Cards could get misfiled, and you had to create a card for eery index point. And they took up so much floorspace! I started work as a librarian on the cusp of automated catalogues and I loved them. (My first professional job was managing correction to the card catalogue across a city system. Nightmare.)

      But, I did love this post and if I were going to the US next year I’d go to this exhibit! I love Willa Cather’s work.

  3. What a beautiful place. Thanks for the photos as I’m never going to visit it in reality, although I wish I could just snap my fingers and be at the Cather exhibition.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let's talk!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.