Stebbins, Emma (1815–1882)

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Stebbins, Emma (1815–1882)

American sculptor and painter. Born on September 1, 1815, in New York City; died on October 24, 1882, in New York City; daughter of John Stebbins (a New York banker) and Mary (Largin) Stebbins; sister of Henry George Stebbins, president of the New York Stock Exchange; studied painting in New York with portrait painter Henry Inman and sculpture in Rome under Benjamin Paul Akers; lifetime companion of Charlotte Cushman; never married; no children.

Created the fountain The Angel of the Waters installed in New York City's Central Park (1873); wrote Charlotte Cushman: Her Letters and Memories of Her Life (1878).

Emma Stebbins was born in 1815 in New York City, the daughter of John Stebbins, a New York banker, and Mary Largin Stebbins , and enjoyed a privileged upbringing in a large family. Her parents, both of distinguished colonial pedigree, encouraged her artistic talent. Her early pictures drew the attention of portraitist Henry Inman, with whom she studied oil painting. From 1843, she was an exhibiting painter at the National Academy of Design in New York and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, best known for her crayon portraits. During a visit to Rome in 1857, at age 42, she decided to become a sculptor on the advice of English sculptor John Gibson. Stebbins took up studies with Maine-born sculptor, painter and author Benjamin Paul Akers.

In Rome, sculptor Harriet Hosmer introduced Stebbins to the actress Charlotte Cushman ; Stebbins became her companion and eventual biographer. Through Cushman, Stebbins met such celebrated women artists as Rosa Bonheur, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Sand . Cushman's influence helped Stebbins to win the commission for a bronze statue of Horace Mann (1864), erected outside the State House in Boston.

It is possible that the influence of her brother Henry George Stebbins, president of the New York Stock Exchange and head of the Central Park Commission, helped Stebbins win her most important commission. In 1873, her celebrated fountain The Angel of the Waters, also known as the Bethesda Fountain and now one of the city's best-known monuments, was installed in Central Park. Other works include Columbus (1867), originally erected in Central Park at 102nd Street, now in the Brooklyn Civic Center, and the innovative Industry (1859) and Commerce (1860) which depict a miner and a sailor, respectively, in modern dress.

In 1870, Stebbins and Cushman returned to the United States, living in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island, until Cushman's death in 1876. In 1878, Stebbins published Charlotte Cushman: Her Letters and Memories of Her Life. She died four years later at the age of 73 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer. American Women Artists. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1982.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York