Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn Lives of the Past Informing the Future - Page 9

sweet auburn | 2019 volume ii Harriet “Hattie” Hosmer (1830–1908) Born in Watertown, Harriet Hosmer definitely visited Mount Auburn as a child—she was a bit of a wild child, so she probably was running around and climbing trees. But also, her mother and three siblings died during her childhood and are buried at Mount Auburn. At a young age, she was determined to become a sculptor, though there were no role models for her. Unable to enroll in classes at Harvard Medical School to study anatomy, she traveled to Missouri Medical College, where she stayed with friends from boarding school. While out on a steamboat trip out west, she won a footrace up a hill in Lansing, Iowa. Her prize for winning: they named the hill after her. There is still a Mount Hosmer on the banks of the Mississippi today. After returning to Boston, she sculpted a bust of Hesper (Evening Star) out of marble, which caught a lot of attention. She also caught the eye of the great actress Charlotte Cushman, who was performing in town and invited her to rehearsals and backstage. Cushman was planning to retire from the stage and move to Rome with her lover, Matilda Hayes. They invited Hattie to join them, and at age 22, Hattie’s life was forever changed. In Rome, an informal colony of American women sculptors began to coalesce, partly due to the proximity of classical sculpture and access to high quality marble- and stonecutters. This group of independent women created art that brought them international renown and competed at an equal level with the men in the field. Their work will be familiar to many of you—the Bethesda Fountain in New York’s Central Park sculpted by Emma Stebbins, another of Charlotte Cushman’s lovers and her longtime companion; the statue of Samuel Adams in front of Fanueil Hall carved by Anne Whitney, who was also born in Watertown; Edmonia Lewis’s Death of Cleopatra, which resides in the Smithsonian Museum today. Hosmer’s work offered powerful views of women, from her sympathetic bust of Medusa to her strong queen in Zenobia in Chains, or her sensual Oenone. In Rome, the artistic and literary scene was filled with notable people, all intermingling, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Georges Sand. Being far from Victorian America also gave Hattie and the other women much more personal freedom. She had romantic relationships with numerous other women, with apparently some affinity for royalty—she had an affair with exiled Queen of Naples and had a long-term relationship with England’s Lady Ashburton. Hosmer was a woman of many interests—she holds a patent for a type of artificial marble, and she even wrote a one-act play, 1975, a Prophetic Drama. Her fascination with spiritualism is evidenced in the play. In her later years, she spent a great amount of time trying to invent a perpetual motion machine. Hosmer tops my list of historical figures with whom I’d like to spend an afternoon. I just hope I could keep up with her. (She is a character in my play, Rage Against the Storm, which is part of The America Plays). You can see some of her work, including the bust of Hesper, at the Watertown Public Library. 7