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 Ream 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 Ream 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. Question for students (and subscribers): Who else do you think is a neglected American woman? Let us know in the comments section below this article, as perhaps we can write an article giving them their due.
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For more information, please read…
Hall, Gordon Langley. Vinnie Ream: The Story of the Girl Who Sculptured Lincoln. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963.
Hubbard, Freeman H. Vinnie Ream and Mr. Lincoln. Whittlesey House, 1949.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Vinnie Ream (1847–1914), is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cwpbh.03864. This work is from the Brady-Handy collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work. Mathew Brady died in 1896 and Levin C. Handy died in 1932. Photographs in this collection are in the public domain in the United States as works published before 1923 or as unpublished works whose copyright term has expired (life of author + 70 years).
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