Starting with the creation of the Lewis and Clark monument and continuing through the years of 1919 to 1924, Charlottesville felt the direct influence of the City Beautiful movement that swept across America. This movement had its origins in the 1890's and continued to impact America through the early part of the twentieth century. The cause of the movement may be attributed to the struggle of the economic system to redefine itself and Americans through the language of consumption, social unrest and violence, overcrowded urban centers, and the end to the agrarian way of life so familiar to Americans. (Capital Project) The movement called back a nostalgic past, a time before the Industrial Revolution took its foothold in all of American life and made an agrarian society a thing of the past.
The look and feel of American cities reflected this irreversible change. Cities were no longer inhabited by well to do men and women. These upper middle class citizens retreated long ago into the safe suburbs apart from the real consumers of large cities - the downright poverty stricken. Cities began to appear as "decaying urban centers" (Capital Project). With a motivation of fear, middle and upper class reformers sought to remedy the situation for their own safety and business viability. (Capital Project) By changing the material look and feel of cities, reformers sought to change the values and behavior of their denizens. A beautiful city could only inspire inhabitants to moral and civic virtue and as a result, the social ills of cities would dissipate into civic loyalty. In addition, reformers hoped that the civic beauty would "strengthen pride in the city and awaken a sense of community with fellow urban dwellers". (Capital Project)
An important element of this movement revealed itself in 1893 during the Chicago Exposition. The exposition itself largely focused its attention on models for future civic centers and proclaimed itself as a prototype for excellence in art, architecture, and landscape design - a working model for the City Beautiful movement. (Parks E-1) Charles Miford Robinson made an important contribution to this exposition when in 1901 he published his Improvement of Towns and Cities or Practical Basis of Civic Aesthetics. One of the most significant of his suggestions detailed his belief that sculptures acted as integral parts of the new civic ideal. At this suggestion, the Exposition acted as a forum for American sculptors to prove their figurative expertise to a eagerly receptive and large audience. Focusing on sculpture as an art form that encouraged civic virtue, sculptors created impressive monuments with allegorical and historical significance. (Parks E-2) Citizens who viewed these sculptures could view the importance of their community's history embodied in a beautiful work of art.
Robinson's suggestions greatly strengthened the influence of the newly formed National Sculpture Society. Along with other groups, the National Sculpture Society espoused figurative public sculptures with historical and allegorical subjects as a means of familiarizing people with the best fundamental values of past and present cultures. As member Henry Kirke Bush Brown wrote in 1899, "It is self evident that our monuments should give some adequate idea of history, both local and national. Their reason for being is to inspire with high ideals to the emulation of deeds of self-sacrifice, valor, or patriotism." (Parks E-3) Others also believed that figurative sculptures of great men and events would "supplement the study of books in our schools and form a part of our educational methods". (Parks E-3) Thus, not only would public sculptures serve as visible models of virtue and good deeds, they would inspire others to continue historical trends formed by their local and national leaders.
However, not all public monuments had the underlying ideals of civic virtue and self-sacrifice behind them. Indeed, as the history of the Lewis and Clark monument suggests, many citizens may have had Alexis de Tocqueville's idea of virtuous self interest on their minds.