During the Senate hearing following the tragic sinking of the Titanic the doctrine of “women and children first” was very much the topic of discussion. Surviving Second Officer Charles Lightoller indicated that despite the fact that there were actually no maritime laws, which mandated the such chivalry in times of danger he, and perhaps many others like him, believed that the doctrine was a universally-recognized and uniformly-practiced principle of conduct. It was why the overall death toll in the Titanic disaster was nine men for every one woman—for the most part the men gave their places in the few available lifeboats to women.
That was the motivating virtue behind Nellie Taft’s efforts to establish a memorial to chivalry in Washington D.C. shortly after the Titanic tragedy. The First Lady mounted a national campaign to raise funds for a monument to be built in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Taft explained, “I am happy to do this in gratitude to the chivalry of American manhood.”
Using the one-dollar donations of American housewives, nearly $90,000 was raised and a commission was given to a prominent team of artists, architects, and landscape designers.
The monument, dedicated at a very prominent location near the White House on this day in 1913, bears the inscription: “To the brave men who gave their lives that women and children might be saved.” Atop a grand pedestal a beautiful bronze statue of a man, arms outstretched, eyes toward the horizon, was placed.
Sixty-three years later, during the Carter administration, the entire monument was removed and placed in a storage facility where it languished, all but forgotten, for several years. Finally, in 1979 it was given a new home, overlooking the Potomac River where it stands to this day as a reminder of the old virtue of chivalry and sacrifice.