A Brief History
On July 28, 1866, Vinnie (Lavinia) Ream, an 18 year old girl became the first woman in the United States to win a commission for a statue, that of the recently deceased President Lincoln. This statue became her most famous work, and it resides in the Rotunda of the US Capitol.
In true American fashion, she was born in a log cabin in Wisconsin in 1847. She attended Christian College in Missouri, now called Columbia College. She began her groundbreaking career as one of the first female US government employees, working at the post office. While only 16 Abraham Lincoln posed for her for 5 months during the middle of the Civil War.
Her great statue of Lincoln took several years to complete, including travel to Europe. Vinnie opened a studio on Broadway, but quickly moved back to Washington, DC and opened a new studio. Her sculpture of Admiral David Farragut was cast in the Washington Navy Yard and resides appropriately at Farragut Square. This woman of great talent played the harp to entertain her family at home.
Another great work of hers is the statue of Sequoyah, the Cherokee Chief that created the Cherokee alphabet. The first free standing statue of a Native American, this statue is on display at the Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. George Custer posed for a bust, and Reams made a model of a statue of General R.E. Lee. Another of her statues is on display at the Statuary Hall at the US Capitol, a likeness of Samuel J. Kirkwood.
Vinnie Reams died in 1914 and is buried with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery. She was honored with a US postage stamp and actually has a town named after her, Vinita, Oklahoma. She was also the subject of at least 3 well known portraits of herself.
This remarkable woman certainly deserves more attention today than she gets, and should inspire girls everywhere. Who else do you think is a neglected American woman? Let us know, perhaps we can write an article giving them their due.
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