As the Titanic was sinking, and passengers were mustered by the officers and crew, the call came out from the officers of "women and children first". Many men stepped aside to let women and children into the lifeboats, and lost their lives in the disaster. In the aftermath of the sinking there was a growing consensus that this should be recognised, inspired by stories from survivors of men standing aside whilst their wives and children got into the lifeboats.
Funding for the memorial was organised by the Women's Titanic Memorial Association, which sought to gather donations for the memorial. The association gathered individual subscriptions from states across the country. Donations were purposely set not to exceed $1. Contributions to the association were received from more than 25,000 women, equivalent to $600,000 in today's money.
The memorial, standing thirteen feet tall, is a freestanding figure of a man standing slightly forward on his right foot, with arms outstretched to the sides, and head tilted back slightly. It was unveiled on 26 May in the presence of President Hoover and the First Lady. It was unveiled by Helen Taft, widow of President William Taft. The memorial was removed in January 1966 to make way for the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and re-erected in its current location in 1968.
The figure is carved from a single block of red granite. It was designed by American sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942). The memorial was so large, that when it was completed it had to be transported from Boston to Washington by a specially chartered steamship. The figure is partially naked, clad only in a flowing robe.
The figure stand on a tall plinth, with a carved inscription on the front face. The inscription reads "To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic April 15 1912. The gave their lives that women and children might be saved. Erected by the Women of America". The back of the plinth carries a second inscription "To the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the ignorant and learned, all who gave their lives nobly to save women and children".
The memorial stands on a wide base, rectangular in form, measuring some 30 feet wide. The base is open at the front, forming a three-sided exedra. It was designed by American architect Henry Bacon (1866-1924). Bacon's most significant contribution to American architecture was the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, built between 1915 and 1922.
The memorial has one of the longest gestations of any Titanic memorial. Permission to erect a memorial was submitted to Congress as early as February 1913, but it wasn't until 1917 that Congress finally gave its authority. However civil works at the site on the banks of the Potomac River, including the construction of the sea-wall, delayed the installation of the memorial until 1931.