How a Mansfield Girl Got On the US $20 Gold Piece

Elizabeth Sherman was born on Park Avenue West just a couple blocks off Central Park, so her playground growing up was the public square, in front of her father’s office.

At that point in Mansfield’s history—1857—the park was only newly established as a green space, so she got to watch the young grass become established even as she was sprouting too.

She had a famous uncle down the street who was a United States Senator, and another uncle in the army who was a famous war hero. She was the youngest of seven kids in the family, and was used to being lost in the shuffle, and, in a world among all those giant relatives, she was generally overlooked.

Her life, however, was not destined to remain obscure.

Her life, in fact, became so fabulous that the evidence of her today, more than a century later, is valuable enough to be kept in locked safes. Her countenance is minted in gold and admired around the world.

Charles T. Sherman’s town lot at the corner of Mulberry Street & West Market (Park Avenue West) is highlighted on this Map of the Town of Mansfield, 1853.

The residence of Charles T. Sherman, where Elizabeth was born and lived in Mansfield. The house was torn down in 1903, and stood where the Fork & Fingers parking lot is today.

Charles Taylor Sherman (1811-1879) was the oldest brother of Senator John Sherman (1823-1900), and Major General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891).  (Mark Hertzler Collection)

The Political Name

Lizzie Sherman’s father was an attorney in town and then, once her famous uncle the Senator got power in the nation’s Capitol, her father was appointed as a Federal judge of Northern Ohio.

And then, once it seemed that the common Mansfield Shermans were about to sit at the table with the famous Washington Shermans, Lizzie’s mother started brokering a suitably famous marriage for her youngest daughter.

Lizzie was, literally, the bartered bride. The famous uncles struck a deal with their political enemy to marry her to a widowed Senator from Pennsylvania, who happened to be one of the richest men in America.

The rich Senator was not her first choice, or her choice at all. He came with his own spoiled, mean children who resented Lizzie; and biographers always refer to their union as a ‘loveless marriage.’

Her disappointing love life was not without its compensating benefits though, and in her new position at the pinnacle of the social pyramid, Lizzie’s life blossomed in the company of the most brilliant, talented, and interesting people of her era.

Elizabeth Sherman Cameron (1857-1944).  This portrait was taken in 1890 when her husband, Donald Cameron, was a US Senator from Pennsylvania. (Library of Congress)

After leaving Mansfield, Elizabeth was never in residence at any single household again until the end of her life.  Following the social seasons around the world, and summering at various of her husband’s houses, she found semi-permanent homes in Washington DC, Paris, and England.  Her DC address, seen on the left, was on LaFayette Park within sight of the White House.  Her Dorset, England address, seen on the right, is where she is buried.

The only formal portrait Lizzie sat for was painted by the Swedish artist Anders Zorn in 1900.

A Gallery of Artists

One of her best friends was the American author Edith Wharton, whose novels of high society characters in frustrating love triangles sounds very much like the life of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron and her lifelong paramour, Henry Adams. Adams, the American novelist and historian, was descended of two Presidents and wealthy even before he launched his writing career. He roamed the world pining for Lizzie, and wrote of her as a character in two of his novels.

From her salons in Washington and Paris, Lizzie served as hostess to politicians and leaders of the world, and because of her role as wealthy socialite, literally all doors were open to her. She was presented to royalty in Europe, including Queen Victoria; and, on occasion, shared carriages with the likes of Andrew Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt and King Leopold of Belgium.

John Hay, the US Secretary of State, called her “the most beautiful woman in Washington,” and artists agreed.

She knew and regularly conversed with all the greatest portrait artists of her generation, yet most of them declined to paint her because they said what made her so remarkably stunning was the motion of her face—her moods, her conversant attentions, her glances and storytelling eyes—and these mercurial qualities could never adequately be captured in an image that remained immobile on the canvas.

There was one sculptor however, who had a crush on Lizzie, and as he became world famous, he put her face into the public imagination for all time…or as long as bronze and gold last.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) by Kenyon Cox.  

Carved Into Time

Augustus Saint-Guadens was an American sculptor living in Paris, whose studio was not far from Lizzie’s Rue du Bois de Bologne house; and in his infatuation with her, he studied her face whenever he could.

When he was commissioned to create a public monument to honor Lizzie’s famous war hero uncle, St. Gaudens chose to depict the man riding a horse led by the allegorical figure of Victory. The statue was many years in the making, with several version and variations along the way, but when it was completed there was no question in the minds of Lizzie’s friends as to whose face the huge Victory wore.

St. Gaudens always said he believed the face of Victory could not be one particular, individual person, but those in Paris, and those in DC, and those in New York who knew Elizabeth Sherman Cameron, all agreed that hers was the immortal face on the statue.

A few years later, when President Theodore Roosevelt asked St. Gaudens to design coins for the United States mint, the celebrated Victory image was adapted into what is often called, “the most beautiful US coin.” So, on the $20 gold piece, there is a tiny revised rendition of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron from Mansfield, Ohio.

The plaster model sculptural work for the William Tecumseh Sherman monument was begun in 1893 and completed by 1900 in time for exhibition at the Paris Exposition Universelle.  It subsequently traveled to the US for exhibition at the Pan American Exposition in 1901 at Buffalo NY.

Many of the studies for the Sherman Monument were cast in bronze and exhibited in museums around the world, including head busts and full body models like this one in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
In the century since the Victory figure was completed, there have been many different theories presented as to who the sculptor’s model may have been.  St. Gaudens said plainly that the body was based on his model Hettie Anderson, but Victory’s face is clearly not hers.  Only friends of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron knew where the sculptor found his inspiration for the angel’s face.

The Sherman Monument was dedicated in 1903 at the SE corner of Central Park in NYC, at the corner of 5th Avenue and W 59th St.

The city has made some dramatic changes in the last century, and the monument was moved a couple times so that a subway could be dug underneath it, but Miss Elizabeth remains undeterred in her march to Victory.

Golden Memories

Elizabeth Sherman Cameron lived through “The Gilded Age,” and, appropriately enough, that is exactly how she survives in our time: in gold. The statue of her in New York City, at the corner of Central Park, was recently restored by re-gilding it with 23.75 karat gold leaf; so if you see her today, she is as gilded as it gets.

Lizzie came back to Mansfield only once, as far as can be documented, in 1903. Her mother always told reporters that Lizzie was born in Cleveland, because it sounded more metropolitan for her daughter’s social career; but Lizzie was proud to claim Mansfield as her first home.

In a letter she wrote in 1900 to an old grade school friend, Lizzie referred to Mansfield, appropriately enough, as the place where she “spent golden years as a child.”

The ‘St. Gaudens double eagle $20 gold piece’ was minted in America from 1907 to 1933.  It was believed that no one would ever want to melt it down if the coin was beautiful enough, so the image of Elizabeth Sherman should be around for quite a while.
Life is short, and history is long for most of the people on our planet.  There are, relatively speaking, very few of our species whose impression in this world is extended past their own expiration date; and some of those who do are made more immortal only through the imagery of public art…especially if it happens to be cast in gold.

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