The Women’s Memorial Bell Tower
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.
Women's Memorial Bell Tower Bronze Plaques
Women of the Combat ForcesOver the west facing arch: Reading from bottom up (right to left): Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Corps and Coast Guard. The five woman who modeled for this plaque visited the Cathedral for the Tower’s dedication and have since visited.
Pioneer WomenOver the south facing arch: Women as well as men cleared the forests and plains and helped carve America from the wilderness. Recalled in this plaque is the decision forced on both the pioneer man and his wife when he is called upon to serve his country. Both were fully aware of the possibility that they may never see each other again. Both realized the woman would be left absolutely alone, no near neighbors, no roads, no way to communicate with the outside world. Yet, neither hesitated. Many of these earliest women settlers sacrificed their lives defending their homes and children while their men were answering the nation’s call to duty.
Clara BartonOver the north facing arch: Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, assisting a wounded soldier from the battlefield. This plaque also honors the women nurses serving the combat forces.
Women Called UponOver the east facing arch: Sister of Charity – In the wars of 1812 and between the States, many nuns of different Roman Catholic religious Orders served the wounded and dying on the battlefields. Salvation Army “Lassie” – These women and those of the Y.M.C.A. serving in the canteen work were not spared when the bombs fell. USO Entertainers – Many of these women (among them Grace Moore and Carole Lombard) sacrificed their lives in the effort to boost the morale of the troops and support the war effort. War Correspondents – Killed getting the news so that the troops and folks at home might be kept informed of events. Riveter. Many of these women released men for combat duty and took their places in the shipyards, munitions and aviation plants, as well as in shops, factories and on the farm, producing the sinews of war. Through tragic accidents or over-exertion these women sacrificed their lives in war work.