The forgotten Gilded Age model who posed for Central Park’s most famous statue

If you’ve ever passed the Sherman monument at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street entrance to Central Park, then you’ve seen her likeness before—she’s the Greek goddess Victory, with wings and sandals, leading General Sherman astride his horse to Civil War triumph.

But who was the real-life woman who lent her image to this Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture, which has stood at Grand Army Plaza since 1903?

Researchers, including her own descendants, have pieced together some of her story as a sought-after model in Gilded Age New York, and it holds some surprises.

With Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor of the Sherman monument, in an 1897 sketch by Anders Zorn

She was born Harriette Eugenia Dickerson in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1873. “Research, including findings by her cousin Amir Bey, shows that before the Civil War the government designated Anderson’s family ‘free colored persons’; they owned land and earned wages,” stated the New York Times in August 2021.

“But the brutal enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the South and financial hardship eventually drove Anderson and many of her relatives northward,” the Times continued.

She and her mother moved to New York, probably the 1890s. They settled into a “sepia-colored brick building on Amsterdam Avenue at Ninety-Fourth Street,” wrote Eve M. Kahn in an October 2021 article for The Magazine Antiques. (Below, Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910)

Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910, a block from where Anderson lived in the 1890s

Going by the name Hettie Anderson, she began working as a seamstress “and occasionally as a store clerk, while modeling and likely studying at the then-new Art Students’ League on West Fifty-Seventh Street,” stated Kahn.

Anderson was soon in demand as an artist’s model, and she was lauded for her looks. “The recognized ‘Trilby’ of Gotham is Miss H.E. Anderson,” wrote the New York Commercial in 1896, referring to the artist model in the George du Maurier novel. “She is a charming young woman, whose beauty of form and face make her in constant demand among artists.”

Those artists included Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and John La Farge. “Miss Anderson’s coloring is quite as exquisite as her shapeliness,” the Commercial stated. “She is richly brunette in type, with creamy skin, crisp curling hair, and warm brown eyes.”

Whether the artists who she posed for knew she was African American is unclear. “New York census takers listed her as ‘white,’ wrote Kahn. “But she definitely did not ‘pass’ or ‘cross the line’—that is, she did not hide her ethnicity by cutting off family members.”

After the turn of the century, she continued modeling, and Saint-Gaudens used her likeness on $20 coins and also gave her the portrait bust he used when working on the Sherman monument.

“Anderson’s likeness can be seen in French’s sculptures at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; in cemeteries in northern New Jersey and Concord, Mass.; and in entryways to the St. Louis Art Museum and Boston Public Library,” wrote the Times.

She might also be the model for Adolph Alexander Weinman’s “Civic Fame,” on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building (above)—though Audrey Munson, another top model of the era, is often credited for that 1914 sculpture.

In the 1910s, modeling jobs became harder to come by. French and sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman helped her find work as a classroom attendant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote Kahn, and by the 1920s, her health was failing.

Daniel Chester French’s “Spirit of Life,” in Saratoga Springs, based on Anderson

According to [her brother] Charles’s granddaughters, she suffered a breakdown after seeing a lover killed in traffic on Amsterdam Avenue,” stated Kahn. “Every evening, she would inexplicably open and shut a window, shouting the name of a cousin, Sarah ‘Sallie’ Wallace Arnett, a church leader who likely disapproved of modeling careers.”

Like many models then and now, her name was mostly forgotten as the decades went on. She died in 1938, and “her death certificate listed ‘model’ as her profession,” wrote Kahn, adding that she and her mother are buried in her hometown of Columbia.

For any readers interested in learning more about Hettie Anderson, Landmark West! is hosting a Zoom event featuring author and scholar Eve Kahn. The event is on December 15 from 6-7 p.m., and Ephemeral readers can get a complementary ticket by contacting ephemeralnewyork @ gmail or via DM.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL Digital Collection; fourth, fifth, and sixth images: Wikipedia]

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16 Responses to “The forgotten Gilded Age model who posed for Central Park’s most famous statue”

  1. Sheryl H Says:

    the other famous model for the statues is Audrey Munson, the woman atop of the Municipal Building
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Munson

  2. RONALD L RICE Says:

    Great article and research.
    Amazing that she was able to crack the racial barriers.

    Her name is what?
    born “Harriette Eugenia Dickerson”
    Why “designated Anderson’s family”?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Glad you liked it! It’s unclear why she changed her name, but it’s not unusual for a model to do that.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m not sure if she married. I did find an archived NYC newspaper article from the 1910s about a woman named Hettie Anderson who was divorcing her husband, a publisher, but it turned out to be a different Hettie Anderson. Researchers are still uncovering her life story.

  3. Jason Says:

    These days I live a few minutes south of Saratoga Springs and often bring my kids to Congress Park there. We have walked by the statue in the post many times. Its nice to know some backstory to it.

  4. Beth Says:

    I start my Central Park tours at Grand Army Plaza (General Sherman statue). Hettie Anderson is always a point of conversation.

  5. countrypaul Says:

    Fascinating story. I don’t care what color she was; bronze or gold will do nicely. I hope her life was happier than all recountings of it would indicate.

  6. Michael Leddy Says:

    Thanks for the backstory — it’s like history hiding in plain sight.

    On a poetry note, the Sherman monument appears in Frank O’Hara’s poem “Music”: “If I rest for a moment near The Equestrian /
    pausing for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe, /
    that angel seems to be leading the horse into Bergdorf’s.” A nice bit of urban surrealism (with liverwurst).

  7. Tom B Says:

    I wonder in today’s world, celebrities who are very famous, will be all but forgotten 60 years from now.
    The timeline explanation of her name is confusing. Her father must of been named Dickerson and she went back to use her mother’s last name. This was a charming story.

  8. barrypopik Says:

    Hey! I did important research on both Audrey Munson and Hettie Anderson! “The recognized ‘Trilby’ of Gotham is Miss H. E. Anderson”–I found that! It says that she was an early (perhaps the first) Gibson Girl. It also implies, by the list of artists she worked with, that she probably posed for the Astor Ballroom in the original Waldorf-Astoria in 1893, destroyed almost 40 years later for the Empire State Building…I wrote to Eve Kahn asking why Hettie is now getting credit for “Civic Fame” on the Municipal Building, but there was no reply. Audrey Munson has long been given credit for it. The one citation Kahn uses is dubious–it says that the model was a “New York girl,” which Hettie was not…There are also two more coins–an Indian head by St. Gaudens, and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar by Adolph A. Weinman, that can be credited to Hettie…I have long stated that both Hettie Anderson and Audrey Munson must be honored on U.S. postage stamps. No one in NYC has helped in this effort. When Munson was alive in the early 1990s and I rediscovered her, not a single person in NYC would help me, to help her.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Barry, I support your push to get US postage stamps honoring both Audrey and Hettie! I agree based on what I’ve read that it seems unlikely Hettie was the model for Civic Fame. But I’m always willing to entertain possibilities other researchers propose.

      • barrypopik Says:

        I have called Hettie the “Queen of Lost New York.” She also posed for the (lost) Dewey Arch. I am uncertain if she posed for Weinman’s “Night and Day” for the lost Pennsylvania Station…My big push in researching both Hettie Anderson and Audrey Munson is getting more NYC newspapers digitized. The 1910s are clearly in the public domain. There is no excuse at all for the New York Evening Journal, New York American, New York Morning Telegraph, New York Globe and New York Mail to still be unavailable to scholars. Michael Bloomberg and MacKenzie Scott (ex of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos) clearly have the money. No one can give a penny to the New York Public Library to preserve NYC’s history? “Big Apple” turned 100 years old in print in 2021. Gerald Cohen and I solved it 30 years ago. It’s in the public domain, and yet, the NY Morning Telegraph (the Broadway Bible and part of the “chorus girl’s breakfast”) is still not digitized. “Civic Fame” went up in 1913, and these newspapers are still not online. Well, we have a new mayor and a new Manhattan Borough President, and once again, I will try to beg to talk to them about the city’s history!

    • Sheryl H Says:

      The bigger problem is that we only honor the person at the top. All the models that sat for the sculptures, are forgotten. We seem to have only room in our collective hearts for the sculpture, the painter, and not the models and the many that supported the person at the top.

  9. Ginger Says:

    I live near Major Mark Park in Jamaica, Queens, and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument statue in the middle looks quite similar to this one except the angel is holding different items.

    Gee, this style was really a thing!

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