Harriet Hosmer Collection
Dates:  1896-1898; 1908-1924
Accession Number:  850124A
Description:  Three file folders in a document case


Harriet Hosmer was the first woman to break into the all-male world of neo-classical sculpture in the nineteenth century. 

Hosmer was raised in Watertown, Massachusetts by an indulgent father in a family where the mother and three other children had died of tuberculosis. He was determined to save this daughter and established a rigorous exercise program that included mountain climbing (a peak in Missouri is named for her) long bicycle rides, and shooting expeditions.

As a result of these physical challenges, she was a much more active and independent child than most of her peers, but she was so difficult to discipline that her father sent her to a school called Mrs. Sedgewick's in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was a liberal school where she met many unique people including authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and English actressFanny Kemble. 

Encouraged by Kemble, Hosmer went to Boston to study sculpture and was helped by Dr. Wayman Crow.  A father of one of Hosmer's friends, Crow arranged for her to live with a family in Missouri and take private anatomy lessons because, as a woman, she had been denied this study at the Boston Medical School.  He also gave Hosmer her first commission.

Returning to Watertown, she occupied a home studio built for her by her father, and at age 22, she completed her first major work, a neoclassical bust of Hesper. A friend who appreciated the quality of the work encouraged her to study in Rome where she studied under John Gibson, an important British sculptor. 

Hosmer received many commissions from European royalty who overlooked her rough manners and appreciated her as the original, wild-living character she was. Harriett was small, dressed in boyish clothes, wore a velvet beret, and was known for her midnight rides on horseback. She became part of the Spanish Steps set of intellectuals that included writers Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and sculptors Anne Whitney, Emma Stebbins and Edmonia Lewis.

Meanwhile, Hosmer's father was having financial problems and asked her to return home, but she decided to stay and support herself. She was so successful that she opened a palatial studio and hired a staff of male stonecutters. She did much archaeological research for her sculptures that were mostly depicting of Greek and Roman mythology. She also did a cast of the bronze hands of the Brownings and a large statue of "Senator Thomas Hart Benton" of Missouri. Unveiled in Lafayette Park in St. Louis in 1868, it became one of the last public-figure sculptures draped in classical garb.

Hosmer's popularity waned after the Civil War.  She insisted on retaining the neo-classical style even though realism was beginning to take hold. She spent her later years living in British castles filling portrait commissions,   In 1893, she sculpted a statue of Queen Isabella for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Hosmer is connected to Terre Haute through her family.  From February to April, 1889 Hosmer stayed at the home of Mrs. Charles Fuller, a distant cousin on North Center Street.  During her stay, Hosmer was invited to speak to the Terre Haute Woman's Club about Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  In addition to her lecture, she donated a copy of her sculpture of the Browning Hands to the Club.

Hosmer died in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1908.

Content and Scope of Collection

This collection seems to have originated when Charlotte Schweitzer Burford, Dean of Women at the Indiana State Teachers College invited Mary J. Anderson to speak at the dedication of a new woman's dormitory in November 1924.  In response, Anderson sent the items contained in Folder 2 that once belonged to Harriett Hosmer.  A previous archivist added the letter from Mrs. Anderson to Mrs. Burford. 

The most important item in the collection is the letter in Hosmer's handwriting which offers a brief explanation of why she refused to change her sculpting technique from neoclassic to realistic. The letter is postmarked Terre Haute.   The provenance of the note card is unknown but as with the letter perhaps it was also written when Hosmer was living in her cousin's house.

Added to the collection were some items that were ordered by the Emeline Fairbanks Memorial Library from the Library of Congress. Copies ofthese items enclosed in an envelope from the Library of Congress were found in 2006 in the Community Affairs File of the VCPL's Special Collections Department.

Document Case  




Folder 1
Biographical sketches and newspaper accounts
  of Harriet Hosmer (newspaper clippings)
Folder 2 Letter from Harriet Hosmer to "Miss Anderson" May 1898
  Letter from Mary J. Anderson to "Mrs. Burford" Nov. 16, 1924
  Calling card from Harriet Hosmer with note
  (and needle attached to calling card)
Folder 3 Works of Harriet Hosmer: n.d.






Mrs. Dent's Bonnet







The Staghound






















Beatrice Cenci
















The Death of the Dryads
















Thomas Hart Benton








Sleeping Faun








John Gibson








Fountain of the Siren











Harriet Hosmer








Raymond Curry ?








Harriet Hosmer at work








Harriett Hosmer and her workmen








The Favorite Hunter (Hosmer on a horse)