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America’s Forgotten First Supermodel

The term “supermodel” didn’t come into vogue until the 1980s, when a few highly-paid models became known worldwide outside of the fashion industry. But 100 years ago, one woman’s face and body were used so much the you still see her image everywhere. Audrey Munson posed for photographers and artists, appeared in movies (nude!), and most lastingly, modeled for sculptors whose statues and monuments still stand.

Across the nation, from Florida to California, Audrey remains in our everyday lives. She stands as Liberty and Sapienta (Wisdom) on the Wisconsin state capitol. She can be seen as the nymphs on the James McMillan Memorial Fountain by the reservoir in Washington, D.C. She was the model for Allen George Newman’s Monument to Women of the Confederacy in Jacksonville, Florida, and for his Peace Monument in Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia. She posed for the figure of Evangeline inscribed on the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Memorial in the garden of the poet’s house by the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She inspired three-quarters of the statuary of the Jewel City built in San Francisco for the 1915 World’s Fair. A famous bronze of one of those statues, Descending Night, was acquired by press baron William Randolph Hearst, and now resides at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, on the California coast. One of her surviving “Star Maidens” from the fair now stands in the courtyard of the Citigroup Center building in San Francisco.

Born in 1891, Munson is the subject of a new book, The Curse of Beauty by James Bone, which is promoted in an excerpt at Vanity Fair. The title of the article is How America’s First Supermodel Was Nearly Erased from History. However, the article itself does not tell us how she was erased from history (supposedly the book does), but it introduces us to the woman behind many of the statues you see in New York City and around the country. You can find the short version of what happened to her at Wikipedia (contains nudity).  

(Image credit: Jim.henderson


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