Visitors to the Cathedral are greeted by a 55 foot stone tall bell tower that is dedicated to American women – both civilian and military. Officially dedicated in 1967, The Women’s Memorial Bell Tower is believed to be the first monument in the United States devoted to women’s service and sacrifice.
At the center of the tower, a granite fountain commemorates the lives of American nurses lost in war. The “Tree of Life” sculpture, designed by Douglas Sloane III, signifies strength of character, stamina, determination, and courage. Twelve kinds of fruit grow from the limbs of the tree: breadfruit, pear, fig, peach, olive, orange, avocado, apple, lemon, cherry, pomegranate, and plum.
The fountain, with its “Waters of Life” and the “Tree of Life,” with its fruit and leaves, refer to passages in the Book of Revelations [22:1-2] “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Large bronze plaques, designed by Norman Rockwell and created by his son Peter, decorate the tower’s four archways. One plaque portrays an early pioneer woman, child at her side and rifle at the ready, in remembrance of those who defended their homes and families. Another represents the women of the armed forces–the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard. A third depicts American Red Cross founder Clara Barton assisting a wounded soldier in tribute to all nurses who serve our combat forces. The remaining plaque honors women who gave their lives to the war effort in many capacities: the Sisters of Charity, who tended wounded and dying soldiers; women who served in the Salvation Army or YWCA; USO entertainers and war correspondents; those who tended farms and shops; and women who worked in wartime factories, universally known as “Rosie the Riveter.”
The bells in the tower include English and Flemish carillons. There are also two Sheffield steel bells; one is an “Angelus,” and the other is a larger, 1800 pound bell cast by the Naylor Vickers Company of Sheffield in 1866.