Vinnie (Lavinia) Ream was born in a log cabin in Wisconsin on September 25, 1847, like many people of her day. In a time when many women grew up to become stay-at-home moms, because they were not normally accepted in most other professions, Vinnie chose to go to college instead. She attended Christian College in Missouri, which is now known as Columbia College. One of her lesser-known accomplishments was that she played the harp to entertain her family at home, but her greatest talent and the one for which she is most well-known was in sculpture. On July 28, 1866, when Ream was just an 18-year-old girl, she became the first woman in the United States to win a commission for a statue. She was commissioned to sculpt a statue of the recently deceased President Lincoln. The statue was destined to become her most famous work, and to this day, it resides in the Rotunda of the US Capitol.
Ream didn’t start out as a sculptor, but rather began her groundbreaking career as one of the first female US government employees, working at the post office. However, when she was just 16 years old, Abraham Lincoln posed for her for 5 months during the middle of the Civil War. Perfecting the statue would take her several years to complete, including travel to Europe. She opened a studio on Broadway, but quickly moved back to Washington, DC to open a new studio there. In Washington DC, she sculpted a statue of Admiral David Farragut in the Washington Navy Yard, and it resides appropriately at Farragut Square. Another great work of hers is the statue of Sequoyah, the Cherokee Chief that created the Cherokee alphabet. That was the first free standing statue of a Native American, and it is on display at the Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. As Ream became more and more famous, more and more opportunities opened up for her. George Custer posed for a bust, and Ream made a model of a statue of General Robert E Lee. She considered it an honor to be able to preserve so many historical figures in her sculptures.
Vinnie Ream died on November 20, 1914, and she is buried with honors beside her husband at Arlington National Cemetery. She was also honored with a US postage stamp and actually has a town named after her…Vinita, Oklahoma. She was also the subject of at least 3 well known portraits of herself.