Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Congress decided to commission a memorial statue of the martyred leader for placement in the Capitol. Artist Vinnie Ream was only 18 years old when she became the first female sculptor to receive a commission from the United States government. Reams’ age, gender, and lack of experience were all points of concern when the Senate debated the resolution awarding her the contract to produce the full-length statue of Lincoln. “She cannot do it,” Senator Charles Sumner claimed. “Admit that she may make a statue, she cannot make one that you will be justified in placing in this national Capitol.” Senator Jacob Merritt Howard added, “Having in view the youth and inexperience of Miss Ream, and I will go further, and say, having in view her sex, I shall expect a complete failure in the execution of this work.” Impressed by Reams’ skill and angered by the comments of Sumner and Howard, Senator Garrett Davis was persuaded to vote in favor of the commission. “In consideration of the manner in which she has been assailed on the present occasion,” he determined, “I shall give a hearty and cordial support to the measure.”
Read the complete debate from the Congressional Globe here.