Mildred Howells (1873-1966) was a painter, watercolorist, and poet and the daughter of the novelist William Dean Howells (1837-1920). Isabella Stewart Gardner was acquainted with William Dean Howells and collected several of his books for her library. She also clipped articles about him from newspapers including a charming picture of him with his grandchildren.
Isabella and William had many mutual friends including the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. On 2 May 1897 Saint-Gaudens wrote to William Dean Howells suggesting that he and Mildred sit for a portrait. Shortly thereafter, Saint-Gaudens began work in his New York studio creating three separate reliefs including a double portrait and two medallions of Mildred. This medallion, and one other of the same size and subject in a private collection, show Saint-Gaudens's sensitive modelling of Mildred's fine features.
Isabella placed this portrait in the Sargent/Whistler Case in the Long Gallery alongside correspondence from Saint-Gaudens and other contemporary artists in her circle.