One of only five memorials in DC designed by a woman, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Titanic Memorial remembers the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives to save women and children during the sinking of the Titanic. The ship’s tragic sinking in 1912 had a profound effect on the public’s trust in technology due to the previous claims of the ship’s indestructibility. When the Women’s Titanic Memorial Association held a design competition to commemorate the lives lost, Whitney’s winning entry symbolized the tragedy, but also recognized the heroic actions of those who saved others during the chaos.
As the memorial’s centerpiece, a robed male figure standing unafraid and steady symbolized the heroic nature of those who had sacrificed their lives for the safety of the women and children aboard the ship; on either side of the exedra of the statue, bas reliefs of dolphins swimming amongst waves hold multiple meanings. In Roman tradition, dolphins were considered psychopomps, or escorts to the afterlife; in Christian tradition, dolphins represented salvation, transformation, and love. On both the front and back of the pedestal, under the male figure, inscriptions honor the actions of those who perished in helping the ship’s women and children. While the memorial commemorates the sinking, its religious undertones give the site a sense of hope despite the subject matter.
The memorial was originally completed in 1916, but was not dedicated until 1931; it remained in its original location at the intersection of Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and New Hampshire Avenue NW until 1968. At that time, the construction of the Kennedy Center resulted in the memorial’s relocation to Southwest Waterfront Park.
DC Inventory: February 22, 2007
National Register: October 12, 2007