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Exploring the Dedication Ceremony of the Joan of Arc Statue in Meridian Hill Park

Take a journey through history to explore the dedication of the iconic Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park. Learn about the ceremony, the people in attendance, and the symbolism of the statue.
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Prince of Petworth has a couple of posts on this statue already, but I wanted to add a few then and now photos and do a little more background research on the dedication ceremony.

Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park
Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park circa 1922

President Warren G. Harding was in attendance during the dedication ceremony on January 6th, 1922, along with the Ambassador Jean Jules Jusserand of France (the old French embassy is just across the street from the park — photo below). Several thousand local spectators were also in attendance to watch the unveiling. As an aside, Harding would be dead a little over 18 months later, while traveling in San Francisco. He was in fairly bad health and died under slightly suspicious circumstances.

There is an awesome video that you should check out, brought to my attention by the Prince of Petworth.

French Embassy, 2400 16th St. NW
French Embassy, 2400 16th St. NW

The sword she is holding in her right hand was stolen in 1978 (why the hell would someone steal a statue’s sword?) and not replaced until December of 2011. The statue is a replica of the one in front of the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Rheims, France (done by Paul DuBois in 1889). It was a gift to the women of the United States from the women of France. An interesting fact is that it is the only statue in all of D.C. that depicts a woman on horseback.

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Here is the formal description from the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog:

Portrait of Joan of Arc dressed in armor astride a trotting horse. Her body is twisted slightly as she raises her proper right arm out behind her. At one time, she held a sword in her proper right hand. The visor on her helmet is raised and she looks up at the sky. In her proper left hand she holds the reins to her horse. The sculpture rests atop a three-tiered granite base.

The sculpture is a replica of the original statue located in France in front of the Rheims Cathedral. It is a gift from the society of French women (Le Lyceum Societie des Femmes de France) to the women of the United States. IAS files contain a related article from the New York Tribune Illustrated Supplement, June 24, 1900 that discusses another cast of the piece which was to be installed at the Eglise de St. Augustin in Paris; and the Washington Star, May 29, 1938. The photograph in the Goode publication shows the now missing sword. For related articles see Washington Post, June 7, 1922, pg. 9 and Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Nov. 17, 1925.

Awesome … thanks for the exact date for an article. But, it appears that there was nothing on page nine. I did find the schedule for the program ceremony from the January 5th, 1922 paper.

Invocation by the Rev. Pere Wucher; introductory remarks by the presiding officer, Lieut. Col. Sherrill; presentation of statue by Mme. Carlo Polifeme, president of the Societé Des Femmes de France de New York; unveiling by Mrs. Harding and Mme. Jusserand (floral tributes will be presented at this time); during the unveiling a salute of seventeen guns will be fired by a battery from Fort Myer; address of acceptance on behalf of the United States by John W. Weeks, Secretary of War; acceptance on behalf of the women of America by Mrs. George Minor, president general of the D.A.R.; address by Jules J. Jusserand, Ambassador from France; benediction by the Rev. Charles Wood, pastor of the Church of the Covenant. Music will be furnished by the United States army band from Washington barracks.

Some pretty important people would be in attendance. I scanned the papers a few days ahead and came across a review of the day’s events. The subhead states “Secretary of War Weeks Declares It Is Symbol of Friendship Between Great Republics.” Remember that World War I only ended two and a half years prior.

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“For liberty and peace, Lafayette brough you his sword; for peace and justice Jeanne d’Arc brings you her faith.” said Mme. Carlo Polifeme, president of the Society of French Women of New York, which gave the statue to the city, in presenting the statue. “Jeanne d’Arc will keep alive the burning flame of our love and bring blessings from her new basilique to to her new country. Nothing more sacred could be dedicated to the women of America, nothing more beautiful offered to the beautiful city of Washington than this pious work of art. Jeanne d’Arc is a living prayer, a perfect disciple of all virtues, a divine symbol for all.”

Ambassador Jules J. Jusserand, expressed “the heartfelt thanks of his country” to President and Mrs. Harding for attending the unveiling. He traced the history of Jeanne d’Arc. he said that the success of the allied arms at Verdun when the German army was threatening to overrun continental Europe, was due to the undying spirit of Jeanne d’Arc which prevailed in the breasts of soldiers.

Those are some powerful words. I’m sure you all remember from high school history that the Battle of Verdun was one of the longest and costliest battles in the history of warfare (over 750,000 casualties).

Here is the same statue from a photographic survey completed in October of 1987. By the time this was taken, the sword had probably been sitting in someone’s basement for nine years. Also, the neighborhood around Meridian Hill Park was kind of rough.

Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park circa 1987
Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park circa 1987

And finally, here is the most one recent one where she has her new sword. Thanks PoP!

Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park (December 2011)
Joan of Arc statue in Meridian Hill Park (December 2011)

Now you know a little more about the statue for the ext time you’re in Meridian Hill Park admiring it (or jammin’ out to the summer drum circles up there).

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Enjoy daily

Ghosts of DC stories.