OK, Mother Iowa, maybe you could tone it down a bit?

This is a Union monument, erected in Iowa after the Civil War.


Don’t you dare call it pornographic. It’s a very serious Civil War monument, although it does seem to be lacking in the required plumbing to allow passers-by to be sprayed by her bounty.


  1. blf says

    This is part of a larger carbuncle, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which is “located on the State Capital grounds south of the Capital Building.” As poopyhead notes, it’s a Union (not confederate) monument. About the part shown in the OP, the referenced site only says “The nude woman is on the north side and has been controversial — it is said to be an allegorial figure of Iowa representing our state as a beautiful, youthful mother offering nourishment to her children.”

  2. blf says

    @3, “Treason”? How so? It’s a Union monument. E.g., the Generals elsewhere on the same monument (see link at @1) are Marcellus Crocker, John Corse, Samuel Curtis, and Grenville Dodge (General Grant’s intelligence chief), all Union army (and with connections to Iowa). There are no confederate generals — nor confederate anything else, as far as I can determine — as part of the monument. Nor does the lady in the OP look like a enslaved person. Precisely what she hs to do with the War against Slavery is opaque; albeit as per @1, she’s apparently an “allegorial figure of Iowa”.

  3. stroppy says

    Women should be allowed to breastfeed in public. Take that, prudish patriarchs, right in the eye!

    @ 2
    Oh yeah, that guy. Ashcroft. Wasn’t he the one that sat around in his office with his buddies anointing each other with holy canola oil? In a weird world, Republicans have got to be among the weirdest.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says


    Tee hee… “ UNION.”

  5. blf says

    I’ve been searching for a bit more information on the monument and, in particular, the lady illustrated in the OP’s link. A scan of the 1898 Handbook for Iowa Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (PDF) describes each of the features / figures of the monument. Unfortunately, the OCR (image-to-text conversion) is introducing lots of typos, &tc, making it awkward to quote. (The relevant page is 105, which 56 in the scan.)

    Apparently, according to Between Patrons and Populace: Danish-American Sculptor Carl Rohl-Smith and the Iowa Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Des Rohl-Smith and the Iowa Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Des Moines Moines (PDF), the monument was originally designed by an incompetent local, who then died. The lowest-bid sculptor (Carl Rohl-Smith) was hired to build the thing, who was a trained European artist with a knack for realism. (Indeed, if you can stop giggling and look closely — unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a high-resolution image — it has some artistic merit and is technically accomplished.) He had to reinterpret / redesign the work, and apparently did so rather freely. (I have not been able to locate what the original “allegorial figure of Iowa” looked like.)

    But there had been other telling disagreements between patrons, public, and artist. In presenting the allegorical sculptures Iowa — Mother of the Nation and The Muse of History, Rohl-Smith picked up on ideas already in the original concept by Harriet A Ketcham, but he elaborated on the themes in ways that diverged considerably from the original design. It caused heated debate when it dawned upon people that Iowa was to appear naked.

    […] Rohl-Smith’s idea was to present an allegory of the bounty of Iowa, as emphasized in the sentence cut into the granite above the figure: IOWA — HER AFFECTIONS LIKE THE RIVERS OF HER BORDERS FLOW TO AN INSEPARABLE UNION. It was a common practice in the Old World to couch ideas in pictorial language such as this. Iowa’s nurturing breasts were meant to represent the two rivers, Missouri and Mississippi, that border the state to the east and the west and are the sources of Iowa’s fertility and bounty. The rivers flowed together “in inseparable union” (in St Louis), just as America was again one “inseparable union” following the contribution of the Iowa soldiers and sailors in the Civil War. Layer upon layer of meaning.

    Iowans were not prepared for this puzzle. All they saw was the nakedness. […]

    The Muse of History is another giggle-worthy bit of the monument (see, e.g, the link @1).

    As an aside, Rohl-Smith is also responsible for The Fort Dearborn Massacre Monument, which is no longer on display due, in part, to it’s insensitive portrayal of First Nations peoples.

  6. stwriley says

    Okay, I totally vote that they fix the plumbing question and turn her into a fountain.

  7. fishy says

    In Springfield Illinois you can pet Abraham Lincoln and make his nose all shiny.
    It’s for good luck.

  8. blf says

    Everyone’s heard of Manneken Pis in Brussels. Perhaps less well-know is his counterpart, also in the centre of Brussels, Jeanneke Pis. (In my experience, whilst it’s in a dead-end alley, there’s almost never anyone else there, unlike at the more famous statue.)

  9. larpar says

    I’ve lived in Iowa since 1969 and this is the first time I’ve heard about the statue. My sixth grade class even toured the Capital. This wasn’t on the tour. Time for a trip to DM.

  10. rblackadar says

    I think it’s supposed to mean that the rivers flow (literally) to an inseparable union of rivers, just as Iowa’s affections flow to an inseparable Union. It’s an example of antanaclasis (I had to look that up) and rather poetic, but if you look at it closely it doesn’t quite work as a simile.

    In fact it’s worse than that — if we want to be nerdly accurate, the waters unite and then divide again at the Old River Control Structure and the Mississippi River Delta. Only later do they inseparably unite in the Gulf of Mexico. So sometimes, unions are not inseparable, at least in the short run.

  11. consciousness razor says


    So … Iowa’s affections flow to the north end of St. Louis? A little weird, but I guess there are worse places for your affections to flow. Iowa, for instance.

    Don’t you dare call it pornographic.

    Look, I’m not an expert in mammalogy or in fluviology, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it usually works.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    Re. anat @5:
    I vote we make Asherah the state goddess of Iowa. As Mrs. God, she is at least as worthy as those Greek and Roman entities that are represented by statues everywhere.
    BTW, is there any legal reason she cannot be made the official patron of the University of Morris? That – to quote Beavis and Butt-head- would be cool.

  13. blf says

    @14, That second image reminded me there are some statues which have detachable penises. A famous one is The Angel of the City (also known, I think, as The Angle of the Citadel), by Marino Marini, in Venice. (The penis is, nowadays, welded on.)

    More recently, here in France, French statue gets detachable penis to thwart thieves (2016):

    The town of Arcachon has decided to create a prosthetic removable penis that can be attached to the statue of Heracles, or Hercules, in Parc Mauresque after years of vandals stealing the appendage.

    “Considering Heracles’ fragile manhood we’ve chosen to give him a removable prosthetic that we can add to the statue before each ceremony,” deputy mayor said […]. “This is the best solution, otherwise you just end up constantly chasing after the anatomy of Heracles.”

  14. rblackadar says

    @17 Oops, I just hate it when I get something nerdy wrong. Yes, my rewording of the inscription is antanaclasis, but the original is zeugma, as the word “union” appears only once.

  15. Reginald Selkirk says

    Underneath is a cross, a star and a diamond. Can someone fill me in on that symbolism?

  16. blf says

    @25, Speculating, those are the badges (or emblems) of some of the Iowa regiments(?) in the Union army, albeit of which ones I have no idea. The before-mentioned Muse of History also has three, two different stars, and something I can’t quite make out but which looks vaguely like a life-preserver ring (lifebuoy). They may be yet others elsewhere on the monument.

  17. leerudolph says

    blf@8: I re-OCRd the PDF document you linked to. There were a few corrections to make on that page, but here’s the text, for what it’s worth. I might as well upload the whole thing to the Internet Archive, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.

    The allegorical figure of Iowa represents our young and vigorous state as a beautiful, youthful mother offering nourishment to her children. It is seven feet high, which indicates nine feet if in standing posture. It is most vigorously modeled and reminds one of the glorious goddesses on the frieze of the Parthenon. Splendid physical development, joined to relined beauty of soul, holds one spellbound before this masterpiece of sculpture. The fine classical head is somewhat modernized by the flowing hair. The closed eyes, earnest brow and sensitive mouth all convey the inspiration, Maternity, to all who behold it, but it is unspeakably emphasized by the pose, which suggests longing, waiting motherhood, with bounteous gifts for all her offspring. The figure is semi-nude. A rich, full drapery falling across the lap conceals the lower limbs; about her feet are symbols of our state’s prosperity-wheat and corn, with the ploughshare. Many great art critics have passed judgment upon this magnificent figure and it has been pronounced one of the finest art conceptions in America. One is awed into silence by its beauty, is elevated by its purity of suggestion; one looks, but comes again, and yet again, “that he may dream of it when far away,” as we all must of the Milo, Medici and Niobe. Iowa has at last a masterpiece of true classical art. Said one whose knowledge of the beautiful has been gathered in many lands: “This figure haunts me with its unearthly beauty, its noble suggestion, its overawing modesty and dignity. I feel that I must whisper in its presence as when I viewed the great Sistine Madonna in Dresden.” Holy Motherhood! Men bowed before it in the manger at Bethlehem, two thousand years ago, and to-day men worship just as reverently at its shrine, whether it is in the palace or in the peasant’s cot; whether in marble, clay or storied bronze.


  18. Ray, rude-ass yankee - One inseparable gemisch says

    I, for one, welcome our bountiful overlords.

  19. Ridana says

    Why can I find nothing waxing so eloquent about the “Woman with Child” statue on the other side? They go on and on about the woman offering up her breasts, as we’ve all seen so many mothers do (/s), rhapsodizing about her Maternity and Holy Motherhood Batman!, and how they may dream of it when far away so they can come again, and yet again. But I can’t even find a basic description of the “Woman with Child” statue. Is that a basket of food at her side? What is up with her hair, that it looks like she has horns? Is she supposed to be black and that was someone’s idea of nappy? If she is not an actual mother to be so sainted as the topless figure, what is she supposed to represent?

    A woman (Harriet Ketcham) designed this monument, but she seems to have mostly gotten lost among all the men writing about it, so who knows what she intended to convey.

    I’m not crazy about any war monuments (I’ll give the Vietnam Wall a pass, as it seems to be genuinely therapeutic rather than glory-to-war), but I do like this one. It’s not intended to be anyone in particular, just a Union cavalryman grieving the loss. No raised swords, no charge leading, no battle cries or rearing steeds, just weary sorrow.

  20. davidc1 says

    @15 What is it with them Belgian’s with public urination ,there is also a statue in Brussel’s of a dog cocking his leg and taking a leak .

  21. blf says

    @31, “Why can I find nothing waxing so eloquent about the ‘Woman with Child’ statue on the other side?”

    I think you’re taking about The Muse of History, which has been mentioned several times in this thread and also in several of the links. In the first document linked-to in @8, it’s called History and is on page 105 (page 54 in the linked-to scan). The description therein is as flowery, ridiculous, and uninformative as that for Mother of the Nation (the “allegorical figure of Iowa”, see @27).

    I speculate it’s harder to find a basic description of that part of the monument because it’s not representing anybody in the Union forces and, despite the frontal nudity of the child (no idea what the child is supposed to represent), didn’t cause too many objections. In contrast, the bare-breasted lady of the OP is supposed to represent Iowa, which doesn’t seem to have gone over too well at the time (and hence generated many more words then, as it seems to be doing here now).

  22. Ridana says

    Ok, she was only called “Woman with Child” in the link @1. Somehow I managed to miss your post @8 (maybe a weird tl:dr morning lapse). I can see no evidence in either source @8 to call Ms. Ketcham incompetent though. Those who implied it seemed to have an agenda with the entire undertaking, and your first source spoke quite favorably of her talents. That she was asked to redesign it only seems to support the sculptor’s complaints about art by committee. Reading between the lines, I think he may have viewed the provincial Americans as beneath him altogether and all who got in the way of his creating it from scratch according to his own artistic vision were uncultured swine. :)

    As for the History statue, I see her “horns” are a laurel wreath, and her “basket” is the armrest of her throne with assorted history items set on it, but it looks like she was the one modeled on Abe Lincoln, rather than the boy (representing Iowa, trying to tell History his war stories or something) modeled on Lincoln’s son. So thanks for providing those pics. My google-fu sucks.

    (odd coincidence: TIL Ketcham was born about 50 mi away from where the Union statue I linked to today stands)