Theodora Alice Ruggles Kitson preferred to be known as Theo. Kitson, or T.A.R. Kitson, at least professionally. She was not alone in choosing a masculine-sounding name, for in the 19th century this was an advantage for a woman whose work was in the public eye.
Kitson was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, outside Boston. Her well-to-do family recognized Theo’s talent and eventually secured an apprenticeship for the fifteen-year-old in the Boston studio of up-and-coming British sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson, now best known for his popular, iconic Minuteman monuments in Lexington and Concord.
Henry and Theo were married about 7 years after she began her apprenticeship, to wide newspaper coverage–it was the celebrity wedding of the year in 1893. The art world power couple ran a highly successful studio, producing hundreds of monuments and private commissions in the early decades of the 20th century.
Theo’s work proved to be extremely popular, and her many monuments include “The Hiker,” a tribute to veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Filipino-American War. The first version, a 9-foot tall bronze man carrying a rifle, was made for the University of Minnesota in 1906. At least 50 copies were made and the piece was widely reproduced in smaller scale by the Gorham Company beginning in 1921.
Kitson’s working life is perhaps most vividly encapsulated by the 69 monuments (both plaques and lifesize tableaux) she sculpted for the Vicksburg, Mississippi national war memorial. This large, landscaped park in the Missippi Delta contains over 1330 monuments commemorating Union veterans of the Civil War. Produced about 60 years after the end of the war, Kitson’s monuments engendered, she hoped, a spirit of healing. The young artist, having finished a monument to Massachusetts soldiers, asked that a relative of a Confederate soldier be present with her at the unveiling. Kitson journeyed to Vicksburg for this event with her infant son, and there met Alice Cole, whose father fought for the Confederacy. Together they unveiled the monument to a large waiting crowd–a grand entertainment in 1903.
Theo Kitson’s prolific output consisted mainly of war memorials, although she also sculpted historic markers and at least one non-military graveside memorial. One of her last collaborations with her husband is in Framingham, Massachusetts, where the Kitsons had a home. The monument (pictured), shows an American colonist at the moment he turns from his forge to load a rifle for the battle of Lexington and Concord. Alice signed this herself–it is the third and last of the Kitson’s Boston-area Minutemen.