Vinnie Ream's statue has always been controversial. The young woman, who took up sculpting while working as a clerk in the Post Office Department in Washington, received the commission from Congress to create the sculpture in 1866. She was still a teenager.
Ream was given a basement studio in the Capitol, and worked for two years on her project.
The other monument has become more controversial over time as it depicts Lincoln, holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, standing over a kneeling slave whose shackles have been broken. A proposal to depict Lincoln with black troops of the Union Army, thus portraying African Americans taking an active role in emancipation, was rejected as being too expensive.
The money for the statue was raised from contributions of freed blacks. Yet the committee making the decisions was entirely white, and the sculptor, Thomas Ball, was white.
On the day the statue was unveiled by President Ulysses S. Grant, the former slave and noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave the dedication speech. Though Douglass may have considered the statue acceptable, over time it has fallen in favor, as an article in the Washington Post noted in April 2012.
This week in Newspaper Sunday, in honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, we look back at news coverage of those two statues.
Note: The links below lead to excerpts of articles. To see the entire front page of the newspaper, click on the "persistent link" on the excerpt page at the Chronicling America site of the Library of Congress.
- Washington Evening Star, January 7, 1871: Vinnie Ream's Lincoln statue was front-page news on the day the finished work was first shown to members of Congress.
- Washington Evening Star, January 26, 1871: A lengthy front-page story detailed the crowded public unveiling of Vinnie Ream's Lincoln statue in the rotunda of the U.S Capitol on the evening of January 25, 1871.
- Hawaiian Gazette, March 1, 1871: Nearly two months after the fact, a newspaper in Honolulu published an account of the initial showing of Vinnie Ream's statue of Lincoln in the U.S. Capitol.
- Washington National Republican, April 15, 1876: An article about the dedication of the statue of Lincoln emancipating the slaves began with a cascade of effusive headlines.
- The Washington National Republican, April 15, 1876: At the conclusion of his address, Frederick Douglass said, "We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honor to ourselves and those who come after us."
- New York Tribune, April 15, 1876: A front-page story in the New York Tribune noted that the statue had been paid for by black Americans.
Photograph: Sculptress Vinnie Ream with her bust of Lincoln/Library of Congress
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