Art, Art History and Design, School of


Date of this Version

Spring 4-2011


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Art History, Under the Supervision of Professor Wendy Katz. Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2011
Copyright 2011 Melissa Sheets


The Arsenal Monument in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. commemorates the twenty-one women who died while working as cartridge makers in the Washington Arsenal on June 17th, 1864. It utilizes both traditional and idealized memorial imagery, represented by an allegorical figure of Grief who stands atop the Monument’s shaft, as well as a realistic representation of the Arsenal explosion carved into the base. Erected only a year after the incident, the Monument can be interpreted as commemorating all twenty-one women by the inclusion of their names on the sides of the base. From this listing of names and the Monument’s location within a cemetery, it would also appear that the Monument serves as a headstone for the mass grave below.

However, six women, whose families preferred them to be buried separately from their fellow comrades, are in other locations both within the Congressional Cemetery and in Mount Olivet Cemetery. This separation raises questions as to whether or not this public Monument was a successful memorial for the women’s families. Before the rise in popularity of monument building in the decades following the Civil War, mourning and memorializing was a private practice conducted by family and friends rather than the government and fellow citizens. Given this, the Arsenal Monument can be viewed as an object that mediates between the private act and the eventual public recognition of lives lost during wartime.

Advisor: Wendy Katz