The Spanish-American War Memorial was the very first national memorial to be erected by a national society of women–the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. They funded the effort, they designed the memorial, and they secured its location in Arlington National Cemetery. The memorial was dedication on May 21, 1902 was attended by President Theodore Roosevelt, 150 NSCDA members, and nearly 1000 Spanish War Veterans.
It all started about 8 months after the end of The Spanish-American War, the 10-week conflict in 1898 that pitted Spain against Cuba (with significant help from the United States). It was the war that immortalized the Rough Riders and, following the sinking of the USS Maine, inspired the headline, “Remember The Maine, To Hell with Spain.”
More than 2900 Americans died during the war (mostly from disease), so the NSCDA wanted to create a memorial for the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery. The effort was led by Winifred Lee Brent Lyster, who personally penned more than 2,000 letters asking for funds for the memorial. (No email mailing lists in those days!) Her efforts yielded almost $7,300, which is the equivalent of more than $210,000 in today’s dollars.
The Memorial was originally planned to be a tablet with the names of the deceased, but with so many names, it was decided that the names would be listed in the “Book of Patriots,” an elaborate hand-bound, leather-covered book where every one of the 6,480 lines of information is hand drawn in India ink. The book has been on display in a handful of buildings at the cemetery.
Collecting the names for the book was a daunting undertaking that required sending hundreds of letters to state militia commanders requesting complete lists of the name, rank, and home towns of those in state militia and volunteer regiments who died in the war. Again, all the work was carried out by the women of the NSCDA.