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Meet the muse behind Gilded Age masterpieces

The City of Columbia recently installed a historical marker honoring Gilded Age model Harriette “Hettie” Eugenia Anderson honoring her legacy and Columbia, SC roots.

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A historic marker honoring Hettie Anderson was installed in April, 2023 near her birthplace in Columbia, SC. | Photo by COLAtoday

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In late April, the City of Columbia installed a historical marker to honor Gilded Age model Harriette “Hettie” Eugenia Anderson, whose history went largely unwritten for nearly 100 years. The marker is located just a block away from the Governor’s Mansion overlooking downtown Columbia from Arsenal Hill.

Who was Hettie?

In the world of Gilded Age art, there were few models as influential as Hettie Anderson. Hettie was an African American model who was praised for her beauty and her patient and steady manner while posing for artists. Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens called Hettie “the handsomest model I have ever seen of either sex.”

Harriet Lee Dickerson — her birth name — was born in 1873 in Columbia to seamstress Caroline (Lee) Scott and Benjamin Dickerson. She grew up in the home her parents owned on the west side of Wayne Street, one block from what is now Finlay Park.

Hettie’s image

One of her most famous depictions can be found atop the Sherman Memorial at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan. As the winged Greek goddess Victory, Hettie strides ahead of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s horse, symbolizing triumph and freedom. Her likeness also graces the Saint-Gaudens double eagle, a $20 gold coin hailed as one of the most beautiful in the world.

Lost to time no more

Despite her influence on early 1900s American Art, Hettie’s story remained largely unknown until the 1990s. Her story wasn’t uncovered until Willow Hagans and her late husband William began their research thanks to her elderly grandmother who mentioned “Cousin Tootie” had been a model.

Today, her story has been told by The New York Times, The National Park Service, and now as a permanent historic marker at her birthplace.

Later in life, Hettie worked as a classroom attendant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surrounded by the works of the artists she had inspired. She passed away in 1938, leaving behind a legacy that continues to captivate art enthusiasts.

Today you can pay your respects to Hettie and her legacy by visiting the new marker on Wayne Street or her gravesite located in the Elmwood Memorial Gardens, about one mile from her birthplace.

Mark your calendars, on June 29, Richland Library will host “The Other Side of the Coin,” an event exploring the life and legacy of Hettie Anderson.

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