VICKSBURG FACTS: Famous female sculptor’s work a highlight of VNMP

Published 8:00 am Friday, March 3, 2023

Did you know a famous female sculptor created many sculptures and two monuments for the Vicksburg National Military Park?

Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, a famous sculptor, made an impact on the Vicksburg community with her artistic skills. She was born in Brookline, Mass., on Jan. 29, 1871, according to the National Park Service website. 

Kitson’s mother recognized her artistic abilities at a young age. Her mother tried getting Kitson into several different art schools to further her education; however, every school that they applied to turned Kitson away, according to the National Park Service website. Kitson then had a school director suggest to her mother she find a tutor. Soon after, Kitson was under the direction of English sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson.

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Under Henry’s direction, Kitson grew in her artistic abilities and the pair soon moved to France to continue her education. Eventually, Kitson became well-known for her abilities in France and by the age of 19 she won an honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes Francais.

She also made history by being the youngest woman, and the first American, to ever receive the award, according to the National Park Service website. While living in France, she studied under Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, an accomplished French painter. In 1889, she also won an honorable mention at the Paris Exhibition. 

Kitson and Henry returned to the United States and got married in 1893. The pair had three children.

Kitson, after her return, started to get commissions for various projects around the country, including creating monuments and other sculptures in the Vicksburg National Military Park. 

The first monument that she created for the park was the Massachusetts memorial in 1903.

“It is a gift of Massachusetts in honor of the soldiers of that state who fought and died on the battlefields around Vicksburg during the Siege of 1863,” The Vicksburg Evening Post reported on Nov. 14, 1903.

According to the National Park Service website, Kitson wanted to create a memorial that could represent anyone.

“In the making of this soldiers’ monument for Massachusetts, she stripped the conventional soldier of all his parade ground sham and pretense and made a real soldier of ‘The Volunteer,’ as the statue is called,” The Vicksburg Herald reported on Nov. 15, 1903.

The reporter continues to write how the statue “appealed strongly to all veterans of the Civil War who have seen it. The hardened and vigorous trooper that it represents is the young man who goes into the strife not by conscription or force, but with resolution and an exalted purpose.”

The statue stands on a 12-ton boulder that was shipped from Quincy, Mass. so that a piece of Massachusetts would be in Vicksburg according to the National Park Service website. During the presentation of her work, Kitson wanted to take the opportunity to promote healing and peace for the country, so she invited Alice Cole, a daughter of a Confederate veteran, to help with the presentation of the new monument.

It was then reported the many thoughts and feelings from Vicksburgers of the new monument.

“In him is incarnated the real American soldier; whether from the North or the South, he is typically American and that is why Massachusetts is giving him a place on a great natural granite boulder in the new Vicksburg National Military Park to stand for all time, not only as a monument to the volunteer soldier of Massachusetts but in a larger way as a type of the volunteer who went to the front from every section of the country,”  according to The Vicksburg Herald on Nov. 15, 1903.

Kitson created a total of 73 sculptures and two monuments for the park including various statues, busts and reliefs.