This Week in History – The American Venus


Few of us enjoy a visit to a nursing home, much less an asylum. C’mon, the places are full of old people—really old people—with nothing to offer. They just still and stare.

Ever wonder what life—what stories—lies behind those faces?

The Arch of the Manhattan Bridge

The story I’m going to share forces me to see people differently. Twenty years ago this week (February 20, 1996), one of the most well-known figures in America died—but few knew it.

Audrey Munson. Recognize the name? No? You’d recognize her face.

Audrey was 15 years old and living in New York City when a photographer noticed her. He was captivated by her beauty and introduced her to the sculptor Isidore Konti. That’s when things took off. Audrey captured the beauty of her era: strong, but feminine. And so she became the face of dozens of works of art. (Her face can be seen at least fifteen times around New York City alone.) She was hailed in her day as the American Venus.

The Spirit of Life Saratoga Springs , NY

The Spirit of Life
Saratoga Springs , NY

For 13 years, Audrey was everywhere. In 1919, she and her mother began boarding with a physician and his wife. The doctor became infatuated with Audrey, and he ultimately killed his jealous wife. Audrey and her mother were cleared of any wrongdoing, but Audrey’s reputation was ruined.

She ended up selling kitchen utensils door-to-door. She became depressed, then suicidal. And finally her mind went. Her mental state deteriorated to the point she was committed to the Saint Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg, New York—where she lived in silence and obscurity for 65 years.

Audrey Munson’s value was not in the past nor was it tied to her beauty and popularity as the image of femininity.

USS Maine Monument Central Park, NYC

USS Maine Monument
Central Park, NYC

Audrey Munson’s value was tied to the fact that she lived. Period. She—like all of us—was created in the image of God. Her value was in how God saw her.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:29-31).

Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol

Audrey was forgotten—even by family. Only in her last years did two nieces even learn they had this extraordinary aunt. But she was never forgotten by God.

I would do well to remember that.

 

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