It is impossible to know how many women volunteered their services during the Civil War. With loved ones enlisted and battle often at their doorstep, women looked for opportunities to assist at all levels. Although banned from the battlefield, they helped to ease suffering and speed recuperation in countless other ways. Many were recruited through the Army Medical Bureau, or the U. S. Sanitary Commission, which was responsible for monitoring camp and hospital conditions and distributing meals and supplies. Others ministered individually, as needed or as resources allowed.
Bela Pratt has based the sculpture on the Pietà, the familiar image of caregiver, cradling her charge on her arm and ministering with her free hand, which had been interpreted a few years earlier by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson in the Mother Bickerdyke Memorial (1906), another Civil War nurses memorial in Galesburg, IL. In a sculptural style perfectly suited for the project, heavy, volumetric forms naturally give weight to the nurse, on whose physical and moral strength the wounded soldier depends. She supports his bulk easily. Her attempts to alleviate his suffering are tenderly and patiently rendered, her expression is both compassionate and businesslike. The symbolic grouping remains valid: it was incorporated by Glenna Goodacre into the Vietnam Army Nurses Memorial (1993) in Washington, D.C.
The commanding presence of this memorial has made it a landmark in its own right, and now it lends its name to the room in which it is placed. Staircase Hall became Nurses Hall in 1984 by an act of the legislature.