Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; S.X.993.17.4
John Rogers played a major role in popularizing sculpture for the middle classes in Civil War–era America. By his retirement in 1894, he had created almost ninety compositions, or “groups,” and sold more than eighty thousand individual casts for an average price of fifteen dollars. Rather than drawing on traditional classical subjects, he gained inspiration from popular literature and prints of everyday life. He studied sculpture in Paris and Rome in 1858 under two minor sculptors but returned after seven months to pursue his own style, based on narrative and characterization rather than abstract ideals of beauty. His works were celebrated as a thoroughly American, populist antidote to European-influenced neoclassical sculpture. Patented in 1866, Taking the Oath and Drawing Rations was one of Rogers’s best known and most culturally relevant compositions. During this period of reconstruction, citizens living in the southern regions of the country under Union control were required to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States in order to enjoy civil liberties and rights. The sculpture sympathetically portrays a southern wartime widow who must take the oath in order to draw food rations for herself and her young son. The Union officer who holds the Bible for the oath-taking respectfully removes his hat in the young woman’s presence, while an African American child—whose social status lay at the crux of the conflict—observes her tenderly. Having optimistically hoped for reconciliation between the North and the South, Rogers accentuates in this vignette the shared humanity between these representatives of America’s fragmented post-Civil War society.
Last Updated: 5/13/09