CONTRIBUTORS TO MISSOURI
VINNIE REAM HOXIE
State Historical Society
Architect of the Capitol
In 1866 Congress offered a commission for
the execution of a marble statue of Abraham
Lincoln. Despite fierce competition among the
artists and their own heated internal debates,
Congress awarded the task to Lavinia "Vinnie"
Ream, the first woman sculptor to receive such an
honor from the government. At the age of nineteen
Ream had practiced her profession for only two
years, but it was not her youth and inexperience that
created the fervor. Some, like Senator Jacob
Howard of Michigan, felt Ream's gender alone
doomed her to "complete failure."
Born in Wisconsin between 1844 and 1847 to
Robert Lee and Lavinia McDonald Ream, Vinnie's
family lived meageiiy and moved frequently. Her
father's occupation as a government surveyor eventually brought them to Missouri, where Vinnie attended J. T. Robinson's Select School for Girls in St. Joseph in 1856 and Christian College in Columbia. The
latter's alumni office currently displays Ream's early painting of Martha Washington.
The family moved to Washington, D.C, in 1861, where they
renewed a friendship with Missouri congressman James S. Rollins.
Through Rollins, Ream met George Caleb Bingham, who later painted her portrait, and her mentor, Clark Mills, considered at the time
one of the foremost sculptors in America. After hearing of her talent
and poverty, Lincoln agreed to pose for Ream in 1865. The bust,
completed after his assassination, proved a deciding factor for many
voting on the commission.
Among the visitors to Ream's studio in the Capitol basement in
1868 were politicians seeking the impeachment of President Andrew
Johnson. Informants learned that Kansas Senator Edmund Ross, a
boarder in the Ream household, supported the president. Radical
Republicans pressed Ream to use her influence to sway Ross's vote.
She refused, despite threats that she would lose her studio. Johnson
escaped impeachment by one vote. Only persuasive arguments in her
favor by Thaddeus Stevens, a leader of the impeachment movement,
kept Ream's studio open, enabling her to complete her task.
Ream's memorial to Lincoln, unveiled in January of 1871, met with
great public approval. Ream met her future husband, Richard Hoxie, during production of her largest federal commission, a statue of Admiral
David Farragut. After completing the monument, she deferred to her new
husband's wishes and withdrew from her career. Near the end of her life
she returned to her profession to complete two life-size statues—Iowa
Governor Samuel Kirkwood and Sequoya, an early chief of the Cherokee
Nation. The State Historical Society received the Bingham portrait of
Ream, displayed in the Society's Art Gallery', after her death in 1914.