Sen. Jackson Honors Harriette Eugenia ‘Hettie Anderson,’ Model for Saint-Gaudens Double-Eagle Coin”

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Columbia, SC – Last month, on March 14, 2024, a commemorative ceremony titled “Spirit of Life” was held at Elmwood Cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina, to mark the presentation of the SC General Assembly’s concurrent resolution and the installation of a grave marker for Harriette Eugenia “Hettie” Anderson.  Anderson was a Columbia native who was born into an African American family in 1873.  She became the model for the Saint-Gaudens Double-Eagle Coin and one of the most recognized models of the Gilded Age.

Not much is known about Hettie’s early life in Columbia. Census records taken while Hettie Anderson and her mother were living in South Carolina described the mother and daughter as “mulatto.” Census records also confirm Hettie and her mother as residents of the Arsenal Hill neighborhood, living in a residence located on the west side of Wayne Street, between Taylor and Blanding Streets.  Arsenal Hill is within the two-mile square grid that defined Columbia’s original city limits in 1786.  It is one of the second oldest neighborhoods in Columbia.  Established in the 1820s as a fashionable residential neighborhood, it became a well-known middle-class African American neighborhood after the Civil War.  Arsenal Hill is also the neighborhood of the famous photographer Richard Samuel Roberts.

By 1895, Hettie Dickerson and her mother were living in New York City.  New York Census records describe the fairly light-skinned Anderson and her mother as “white.”  The two moved to Manhattan, where Hettie worked as a clerk and seamstress while taking classes at the storied nonprofit school, the Art Students League.  Throughout the 1890s, she was an acclaimed model for well-known sculptors, most notably as the Saint-Gaudens model for “Victory” at the front of Central Park’s General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument in New York City. 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens described Anderson as the “handsomest model” he had ever seen. Saint-Gaudens used Anderson’s likeness again when President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned him to design several new American coins. For his $20 gold coin design, Saint-Gaudens created the figure of Liberty to be featured on one side of the coin. His design for Liberty was heavily influenced by his previous Victory design in the General Sherman Monument.  In addition to the famed Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Hettie also modeled for another prominent artist of the era, Daniel Chester French.

Once her modeling career faded, Hettie Anderson became a classroom attendant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  During this time, the museum had already begun collecting works of art created by Saint-Gaudens, such as a cast of Victory. However, it is unknown if Anderson ever told those in her New York circles about her ethnicity or background as a model.  However, some artists in her social circle, like Saint-Gaudens, seemed aware of her Black ancestry.

Anderson lived the rest of her life in New York City until her death in 1938, at the age of 65.

When a November 2021 article in Numismatic News publicized Hettie’s South Carolina roots, it catapulted her story into mainstream media, with subsequent articles in several publications, including The New York Times.After reading the story, the South Carolina Numismatic Association (SCNA) and the Midlands Coin Club (MCC) in Columbia joined efforts to install a headstone in Columbia’s Elmwood Cemetery.

The organizations that promote and recognize numismatics in South Carolina, a State with a rich history of numismatics, split the costs, and MCC members provided the manpower.   Both organizations felt it was important to honor her as a fellow South Carolinian and to highlight her importance to their hobby. Numismatics is the study and collection of coins, tokens, and other coin-like objects that people use as currencies throughout history. 

The headstone design for Hettie Anderson’s grave marker was approved in late 2022. With the support of genealogist and researcher Karen Strickland and the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission (SCAAHC), it was installed on June 26, 2023, in Elmwood Cemetery and carries a depiction of the obverse of the Saint-Gaudens Double-Eagle and above it the text: “HARRIETTE EUGENIA / ANDERSON / 1873-1938 / HERE LIES THE GODDESS-LIKE MISS ANDERSON.”  The text below the double-eagle credits the SCNA and MCC in partnership with the SCAAHC for placing the marker.  Eve Willow, a family member of Hettie Anderson’s, contacted Karen Strickland in early 2022.  Strickland, a well-known genealogist who was also chair of the African American Heritage Commission at the time, began the local research, completed the applications for the original historic monument, contacted Will Gragg, and was responsible for putting Hettie’s story in front of the SCNA and MCC.  “It is our honor to remember Hettie; she is our Numismatic Superstar,” said Gragg! 

Prior to the erection of the headstone, the City of Columbia celebrated the installation of a Hettie Anderson Homesite Historical Marker on the west side of Wayne Street, between Taylor and Blanding Streets in Arsenal Hill.  The marker, which has text on both sides, reads in part, “Harriette ‘Hettie’ Eugenia Anderson, acclaimed African American art model of the Gilded Age, grew up in a house at this site.”  On the opposite side appears: “Notable works for which she posed include Central Park’s William T. Sherman Monument and the Saint-Gaudens Double-Eagle Coin.”

SCNA Governor Will Gragg designed thirty numbered sets of special medals minted in silver, copper, and bronze to honor Hettie Anderson. Some were sold to SCNA and MCC members to help finance the distribution of free medals. The limited remaining supply of free medals was distributed at the gravesite commemorative event on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Senator Darrell Jackson, Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann, USC Professor Dr. Bobby Donaldson, Chairwoman Clowney of the SCAAHC, and Margaret Dunlap of the Richland County Public Library joined Will Gragg and Karen Strickland along with some two dozen members of the SCNA and the MCC to commemorate Hettie’s life, accomplishments and burial.  Senator Jackson presented the concurrent resolution he sponsored on January 9, 2024, and both Gragg and Strickland were among the program participants who spoke of their labor of love, working on the project for the past several years. “Telling Hettie Anderson’s story has been an honor and a privilege,” said Strickland. 

The MinorityEye is a news and information aggregator that curates the voices, thoughts and perspectives of minority writers, bloggers, authors, reporters, columnists, pundits, consultants and thought leaders as well as those who write about minorities and issues that impact people and communities of color.

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