Born Lavinia Ellen Ream in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1847, Ms. Ream moved around quite a bit as a child due to the demands of her father's job as a government surveyor. The family had been in Washington for a time but then were back "out west" when she attended Christian College in Columbia, Missouri, where she developed her talents in music and poetry. She was introduced as one of the school's star pupils to Missouri politician James S. Rollins, who would join the U.S. House of Representatives in 1861, the same year that Ream's family moved permanently to Washington. It was on the basis of Rollins' connections that Ream got herself established as an assistant in the workshop of Clark Mills, the most prominent Washington sculptor of the day. Mills had done the statues of Jackson in Lafayette Square and Washington in Washington Circle.
There's a long story of how Ream then came to be commissioned in 1866—when she was only 18—to create a commemorative statue of Lincoln to be placed in the rotunda of the Capitol. This was the first government sculpture commission ever received by a woman, and it was not without controversy. Ream had already demonstrated her ability to capitalize on personal connections, and she developed many more as she met the Washington power brokers who visited Mills' studio. Rather than having a standard competition held, with entries judged by an independent panel, Ream's supporters on Capitol Hill crafted a bill that would directly confer the Lincoln commission on her. When a few Eastern senators, including Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, questioned whether Ream was qualified for the task, her supporters championed her as the "this young scion from the West, from the same land which Lincoln came from—a young person who manifests intuitive genius..." The bill passed; Ream got her commission.
|Source: Library of Congress.|
|Stereoview of Vinnie Ream's Lincoln statue in the Capitol.|
Vinnie Ream Hoxie was a minor celebrity by this point, although she produced little other sculpture. An article in the Washington Post in 1900 noted that "The heroic bronze of Farragut...was the last work for which the sculptor received compensation, Maj. Hoxie, with a chivalrous manliness, preferring that his wife should be altogether dependent upon himself." We think he was indeed chivalrous--for providing Vinnie with such a convenient cover.
|The Farragut statue today.|