When the U.S. Civil War erupted in 1861, both sides faced a significant absence of a critical resource: well-trained, experienced nurses. At the time, the only “professional” nurses to speak of were nuns from orders who ran hospitals or otherwise provided ministration to the sick and injured. Despite prevalent anti-Catholic bigotry at the time, some 600 nuns answered the call and proved themselves invaluable in caring for the casualties of the bloody struggle.
Completed almost 60 years after the end of the Civil War, the Civil War Nurses Memorial was the brainchild of Ellen Ryan Jolly, president of the women’s auxiliary branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The Irish Catholic organization raised $50,000 to construct the monument after Jolly secured approval from Congress on March 29, 1918. Noted Irish artist Jerome Connor was commissioned to create the sculpture. However, construction did not begin until five years later, due to disagreements about the location of the memorial and composition of the artwork. It was finally dedicated on September 20, 1924.
The final product consists of a granite base and slab bearing a bronze bas relief entitled Nuns of the Battlefield. The sculpture depicts twelve nuns in an impressive assortment of habits (including one wearing the cornette of the Daughters of Charity, the headgear said to be the inspiration for the Flying Nun) representing the various orders that provided medical care in the army camps. Angels of peace and patriotism flank the relief, underlining the merciful role the nuns served in the midst of the carnage.
Know Before You Go
Located at the intersection of M St and Rhode Island NW, across from the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. The closest Metro station is Farragut North.