Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson
The Vicksburg National Military Park’s 1,800 acres is home to some of the nation’s most important military and war memorial sculpture. It was the desire of the original commissioners of the park for it to be the most monumented military park in the nation. To that end, many of the leading artists and architects of the early 1900s were commissioned to create works honoring those who served and died in the Siege of Vicksburg.
The formative period of Vicksburg National Military Park was during the American Renaissance, a time between 1876 and 1917, the years between the nation’s centennial celebration and America’s entry into the First World War. During this time the United States experienced a period of supreme self-confidence, for it was a time of new technologies and of cultural renewal. It was a time when America celebrated its achievements and honored its heroes. It was a time when sculpture finally achieved equality with painting.
One of the artists commissioned stands out not only for the quality of the work produced but also for the simple fact that she was the only female among the prestigious list of artistic contributors - Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson.
As a young child Theo Alice Ruggles displayed artistic talent, but when her mother attempted to enroll her in the School of the Fine Arts in Boston she was informed that Theo was too young to be admitted. She received the same response from other schools. One of the school directors, however, suggested that she find a tutor and pointed her in the direction of a rising star, Henry Hudson Kitson. She began studying with sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson in 1886 and married him in Boston in 1893 at the social event of the season.
In 1888 she won honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes Francais, becoming the youngest woman and the first American woman ever to receive the honor. In 1895 she was the first woman to be admitted to the National Sculpture Society. Kitson displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, one of only four women selected. Additionally, she won a bronze medal at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
In the early 1900s she designed seventy-three sculptures now located at various sites within the Vicksburg National Military Park. Predominantly busts and portrait reliefs honoring officers from both the Confederate and Union armies. Kitson is the most prolific of the artists represented in the park’s collection. Kitson’s Massachusetts State Monument, dedicated in 1903, was the first state monument to be placed and dedicated in the park.
The Massachusetts State Memorial was a labor of love for Theo and it was important for her to show just an average soldier on the monument, a man who could be the representation of anyone. The statue, The Volunteer, is standing upon a massive boulder weighing 12 tons that Theo specifically requested be shipped from the quarries in Quincy, Massachusetts – a little slice of Massachusetts in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Kitson saw her work as an opportunity to promote healing and reconciliation. When ask to reveal her monument at the 1903 dedication, she reportedly requested a southern woman also be present to help her. That woman was named Alice Cole, a daughter of a Confederate veteran.