This pioneer woman sculptor was a descendant of James Hosmer,
who came from England to Massachusetts in the 1630s. Since her
mother died of tuberculosis when Harriet was four, her father
encouraged her outdoor life. At Mrs. Charles Sedwick's School
in the Berkshires, her Unitarian school classmates, novelist Catherine
Maria Sedgwick and actress Fanny Kemble, suggested that she become
a professional sculptor.
Medical schools then denied women students, but a friend of her
physician father taught her anatomy. When she was studying in
Rome, her overseer was actress Charlotte Cushman. John Gibson,
an English sculptor, accepted her as his only student.
Of her many works, the amusing Puck playing on a toadstool
was purchased by the Prince of Wales. Because of its popularity,
she created 50 replicas which sold for $1,000 each. A colossal
statue of Senator Thomas Hart Benton was commissioned by the state
of Missouri. When Harriets detractors claimed her work was
done by male assistants, she brought a libel suit, and wrote in
defense an authoritative Atlantic Monthly article on The
Process of Sculpture.
Among the sculptors many friends in Rome were Robert and
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.