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Lest We Forget: Ellen Ryan Jolly and the Nuns of the Battlefield Monument

From: American Catholic Studies
Volume 123, Number 4, Winter 2012
pp. 23-43 | 10.1353/acs.2012.0058



The Nuns of the Battlefield monument in Washington, DC, was the first public memorial in the nation’s capital honoring the work of Catholic women religious. Dedicated to one thousand sister-nurses of the Civil War, this little known monument highlighted the role of Catholics, particularly Irish Catholics, to American history at the same time as the country witnessed the outbreak of World War I. Ellen Ryan Jolly, National President of the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, urged the membership to bring to light this forgotten chapter of American history just as questions about the patriotism of Catholics arose once again. A careful study of documents reveals the courage and perseverance of one woman and her Hibernian organization that resulted in the passage of a Congressional bill honoring the sister-nurses. Dedicated shortly after passage of the historic Nineteenth Amendment, the nuns’ memorial represents an important early twentieth century redress to American anti-Catholic rhetoric at a time when the role of women in society was changing.

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