According to its own dedication plaque, the statue was “Erected by the citizens of Portsmouth and Norfolk County. Sponsored by the Austin R. Davis Camp No. 4 – United Spanish War Veterans and Auxiliary to commemorate the valor and patriotism of those who voluntarily served in the war with Spain, the Philippine Insurrection and the China Relief Expedition.” It was dedicated on May 23, 1942. The conflicts it commemorates took place between 1898 and 1902.
Interestingly, this statue is one of at least 50 copies that were cast and dedicated in states across the U.S. between 1906 and 1965. The earliest one was erected in 1906 at the University of Minnesota Armory in Minneapolis. Each casting was produced by the Gorham Company Founders, Bronze Division, in Providence, Rhode Island. Since each statue was so consistently cast with the same bronze alloy and installed outdoors all over the country over a period of more than half a century, the collection of statues was studied for a 2009 publication called “The Effects of Air Pollution on Cultural Heritage.”
The statue’s sculptor, Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, showed her artistic talents at an early age—so much so that when her mother tried to enroll her 15-year-old daughter in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among other art schools, she was informed that the girl was too young to attend. She worked under a tutor instead, and in 1888, at the age of 17, she won honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes Francais (also known as the Paris Salon), becoming the youngest woman, and the first American woman, ever to receive the honor. In 1895, she was the first woman admitted to the National Sculpture Society. Her works were also featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, where she won a bronze medal.
When she created The Hiker, Kitson already had a reputation for creating war memorial sculptures, having designed 73 statues installed at sites within Vicksburg National Military Park in the first years of the 1900s. The monument’s name came from the nickname the Spanish-American War soldiers gave themselves, due to their long marches over rough terrain.
A Spanish-American War veteran by the name of Leonard Sefing, Jr., of Allentown, Pennsylvania, became the model for the statue after a photograph of him was entered in a national contest.
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