Vinnie Reams:A Beautiful American Teen Sculptress

Vinnie Reams could serve as a role model for young women of today.She had everything that a girl dreams of.The Victorian teen had an exquisite appearance,marvelous talent,& a quick witted intellect. The charming beauty was only 18 when she was selected by the U.S. Congress to sculpt the Lincoln memorial becoming the first woman to receive a commission to do so.She truly deserved to be regarded as a “child prodigy.”

This was a female artist that should be revered by many. Her story is truly inspirational & riveting.Yet,Vinnie Reams is largely unknown.Most folks do not know much about the beautiful American teen sculptress who  created the statue of Lincoln that now stands in the U.S. Capitol.

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Vinnie Ream was a colorful character – not exactly the loveable type, but not truly detestable either. She was somewhat of a cross between Donald Trump (with much better hair) and Sarah Palin (without the perpetual victimhood). In other words, she knew the scent of a great business opportunity when she smelled one, was relentless enough to go after it until she got what she wanted, and wasn’t above batting her eyelashes to sway public opinion.

With the dexterity of a born politician, Lavinia Ellen Ream – Vinnie to her friends – integrated herself into Washington, D.C.’s political society, a feat relatively unheard of for a woman without the benefit of a prominent husband. Her friendships with powerful men were enviable across gender lines, and she never failed to use them to further her own agenda. These connections catapulted Vinnie to artistic fame, and her statues stand tall in the rotunda of the capitol building and in Farragut Square, Washington, D.C.

Vinnie Ream: An American Sculptor recounts the life of the 19th-century artist as she lobbied for the Congressional commission to sculpt a memorial of Abraham Lincoln after his death. Having convinced the president to sit for her by playing up her humble beginnings, Vinnie created the most honest likeness to date of the statesman.

Over the course of a few sessions, the sculptor managed to capture Lincoln’s relentless pensiveness, the dour expression, the elongated face, and the famous quiet brooding. But earning the commission meant going up against long-held attitudes about the ability of a woman to do a “man’s job,” so Vinnie used what she had and embedded her artistic skills in feminine charm.

In a relatively short time, she acquired the support of President Andrew Johnson, General Ulysses S. Grant, Admiral David Farragut, senators Thaddeus Stevens (Pennsylvania) and James S. Rollins (Missouri), and Representative Daniel Voorhees (Indiana).

Not surprisingly, the social scene at her studio, which multitudes of politicians regularly visited, became insatiable fodder for the media. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “Her studio is crammed with every conceivable thing…including two Confederate generals and a lady…. People are coming and going all the time, a thousand interruptions; how is it possible for her to work?”

Despite the churning rumor mills, these influential men would go on to play a remarkable role in helping Vinnie establish her place in history.

All this attention invited tabloid-style critiques, particularly in the form of attacks on her character. Vinnie suffered accusations of everything from trading sexual favors to influencing the outcome of President Johnson’s impeachment trial, and some of the harshest admonishments came from women incensed by her popularity and guile.

It was for this reason that she rebuffed Elizabeth Cady Stanton, prominent figure of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, when Mrs. Stanton solicited her signature on a petition recognizing “women and women’s labor under the Government.”

“You are a working girl, getting your bread by your hands! If you do not help yourself and us, how can Woman help you?”

“‘Mrs Stanton,”’ Vinnie said, airing old grievances, “‘no help has any woman given me here. From Grace Greenwood to Mrs Swisshelm, they have all sought to strike me down…. I will be befriended by gentlemen only, for whilst I never got any justice from a woman, I was never treated meanly by man!’”

Vinnie did indeed believe in women’s suffrage and equality between the sexes. To not would be to ignore the fact that she was fighting daily to be “respected as a sculptor, and not as a female sculptor” (94). Voicing that belief, however, would have meant possibly biting the hands that fed her. Several of the senators who had supported her commission and aided her in securing a studio in which to work, vehemently opposed giving women the right to vote.

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Filed under Historical Reasons, People Who Do Us Proud, America

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