The first stone of the Lincoln Memorial was put into place on Lincoln's birthday, February 12, 1915 and the monument was dedicated on May 30, 1922 attended by the former President's only surviving child, Robert Todd Lincoln. It won for its architect, the prominent Beaux-Arts designer Henry Bacon, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects, his profession's highest honor, presented at the Monument in 1923.
No one has ever taken this for a 'Lincoln Monument.' Standing apart from the somewhat triumphal and Roman manner of most of Washington, the memorial takes the severe form of a Greek Doric temple. It is 'peripteral,' with 36 massive columns, each 33 feet high, entirely surrounding the cella of the building itself, which rises above the porticos. By a happy afterthought, the 36 columns required for the design were seen to represent the 36 states of the Union at the time of Lincoln's death, and their names were inscribed in the entablature above each column. Five adults holding hands cannot quite embrace the columns.
The focus of the memorial is Daniel Chester French's sculpture of Lincoln, seated. French studied many of Matthew Brady's photographs of Lincoln, and depicted the president as worn and pensive, gazing down the reflecting pool at the capital's starkest emblem of the Union, the Washington Monument. One hand is clenched, the other open. Beneath his hands, the Roman fasces, symbols of the authority of the Republic, are sculpted in relief on the seat.
The central cella is flanked by two others. In one, Gettysburg Address is inscribed on the south wall of the memorial, and in the other, Lincoln's second inaugural address is inscribed on the north wall. Murals by Jules Guerin show an angel, representing truth, freeing a slave (on the north wall, above the Gettysburg Address), and the unity of the American North and South (above the Second Inaugural Address).
In 1939, the singer Marian Anderson was refused permission to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington because of her skin color. Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for Anderson to perform from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to a live audience of 70,000, and a nationwide radio audience.
On August 28, 1963, the monument grounds were the site of one of the greatest political rallies in American history, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which proved to be a high point of the American Civil Rights Movement. In front of the building, numerous speeches were given, including Martin Luther King's greatest, "I Have A Dream".
The Lincoln Memorial is shown on the reverse of the United States penny. After a visit to the memorial, Steve Crooks noted that because the Lincoln Memorial is shown in sufficient detail to discern the statue of Lincoln on the reverse of the penny, Abraham Lincoln is the only person to be depicted on both the obverse and reverse of the same United States coin.