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Gold Star Mothers--Their Voyages and Their Medals
By George S. Cuhaj (TAMS LM-103)


Time will not dim the Glory of Their Deeds. This was the motto the American Battle Monuments Commission placed at each of eight military cemeteries in Europe.


The commission was formed by act of Congress in 1923 to honor the dead of the American Expeditionary Forces of World War I. Headed by General John J. Pershing, the Battle Monuments Commission selected ten locations in France, Belgium and Gibraltar for monuments commemorating the AEF actions, and eight areas for the entombment of some Expeditionary Forces dead. Cemeteries were the Brookwood Cemetery, London; Flanders Field Cemetery, Waereghem, Belgium, and in France: Aisne-Marne Cemetery, Chateau-Thierry; Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfacon; Oise-Aisne Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois; Somme Cemetery, Bony; St. Mihiel Cemetery, Thiacourt, and Surenes Cemetery, Paris.


The Battle Monuments Commission selected top architects of the day to design the 18 war memorials. Construction of the cemeteries began by 1925, and in the spring of 1930 the final resting places of 30, 800 American soldiers were ready for visits from the mothers and widows of those interred.


The American Gold Star Mothers of the World War was formed in the mid-1920s by the unification of many small town groups just as the Battle Monuments Commission was progressing with their European duties.


On March 2, 1929, the 70th Congress approved the act to enable the mothers and widows of the deceased soldiers, sailors and marines to make a pilgrimage to the cemeteries. The Pilgrimage Act, as it was called, directed the Secretary of War to determine the total number of women eligible and the number willing to travel to Europe. Responsibility for travel arrangements and tours also fell to the Secretary of War, who had the office of the Quartermaster General of the Army handle the mechanics of the act.


Congress, on Feb. 7, 1930, appropriated $5,386,367.00 to remain available for the duration allowed by the original act. (May 1, 1930 to October 31, 1933.) The 71st Congress approved another amendment on April 19, 1930, directing that the Secretary of War have Major General B. F. Cheatham act in his stead for direction of the Act. A third and final amendment was made May 15, 1930, to make provisions for eligible mothers of those Americans buried at sea or in an unknown grave.


The Commission sought out 18,256 women who are eligible to make the trip under the provisions of the act as amended. Of this total, 6,674 women voyaged to Europe during the three years the U. S. Government handled the pilgrimages.


Itineraries for the European trips were standard in most cases: Voyage from the Port of New York to Cherbourg, France on a ship of the United States lines. Ten days were allotted to a tour of Paris and the individual battlefield, with four days at the cemetery. Return would be again from Cherbourg to New York City. The total trans-Atlantic trip would be 27 days.


At the battlefields, tours were given by active servicemen, using small motorcoaches. Cemetery visits were mostly on foot, with the mothers often visited by Marshal Foch or General Pershing. All along the tour, safety was of high priority as the average age of the traveler was 67.


The government contracted with the firm of Bailey, Banks and Biddle for badges of identification for use on these tours. This three-part badge has a top bar of bronze measuring 37mm x 12mm. The bar has a border design of rope, with a five-pointed star in each corner. Inside each border was the engraved name of the mother or widow and her home state. Hanging on a red, white and blue ribbon is a pendant of irregular shape, measuring 21mm by 32mm.


The central design is a five-pointed star, with PILGRIMAGE OF MOTHERS AND WIDOWS on a circling border. The design has an oak and laurel wreath below, and is surmounted by the eagle and shield of the Great Seal, flanked by the U. S. flag. Incuse in the back of the pendant is an I. D. number. As the badges were numbered, an official mintage of 6,674 can be ascertained, with an unknown number unnamed, the latter probably used for presentation samples. The American Numismatic Society Collection has one engraved FOR EXHIBIT ONLY, unnumbered.


The United States Lines Steamship Company also issued a medal for the pilgrimages. It is bronze, 38mm, and struck by Tiffany and Company of New York. The medals were presented on a red-white-blue neck ribbon, with an obverse showing a three-quarter view of a steamship in the open sea, at the stern the Statue of Liberty, and at the bow the Eiffel Tower. In the sea below the ship is the date of the first voyages, 1930; above the ship is a five-pointed gold-plated star. The gold star is a separate thin flake, which is struck into the bronze in the correct design position. The extra medal of the star was then darkened to conform with the bronze area around the star. The reverse has the legend:



The legend ends in a sprig of leaves, with the logo of the United States Lines Steamship company at lower center. To the right of this is the manufacturer's name, TIFFANY & CO.


The edge marking is as follows: BRONZE M (number). The illustrated medal has #1184, which would be too high to have been presented to those only traveling on the SS Washington, and SS Manhattan in their first year. Therefore, to gather more information on the existing numbers in the TAMS members collections I will be conducting a survey. (See the end of the article).


The edge marking is interesting in itself. BRONZE is of course the metal of a jeweler, Tiffany marked all items made. The number indicates the medal's striking. The Gothic type M will interest you. It was the hallmark of John Moore, who operated the Newark factory which Tiffany bought out in the latter half of the 19th century. As these medals were struck in this very same Newark factory, the M hallmark was placed on the bronze issues as well. The firm of Johnson and Jensen mentions that at the present time, Tiffany used the initial of its president for its hallmark.


At the start of the pilgrimages in 1930, the United States Lines had the following ships in operation;

SS LEVIATHAN - 951 feet, 59,956 gross tons;

SS GEORGE WASHINGTON - 723 feet, 23,788 tons;

SS AMERICA - 687 feet, 21,144 tons;

SS REPUBLIC - 17,910 gross tons;

SS PRESIDENT HARDING - 535 feet, 13,869 gross tons;

SS PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT - 535 feet, 13,869 gross tons.

In the spring and summer of 1932, the SS WASHINGTON and the SS MANHATTAN were added to the U. S. Line roster, and the SS GEORGE WASHINGTON was taken out of service. These two sisterships, only in the drafting stages in 1930, are depicted on the Tiffany/U.S. Line medal.


A recap of the four years of Gold Star Mother Pilgrimages gives us the following information:

1930 - 16 round trips, 3,653 women;

1931 - 8 round trips, 1,766 women;

1932 - 3 round trips, 566 women;

1933 - four sailings with 689 women,

for a total of 6,674.

The U. S. Line/Tiffany medal may very well have been issued in 1932 when the last two ships went into service and was presented to the Gold Star Mothers sailing on them.


Looking back on what is now 50 years since the start of the pilgrimages, the eight European cemeteries have been the sight for another war and all the United States Line ships of the day have been scrapped. From a numismatic standpoint, however, time has not dimmed the glory of their deeds.



Issues of the New York Times, 1930 to 1933

The National Geographic Magazine, January 1934 (Vol. LXV #1)

The NUMISMATIST, July 1930, page 456

U. S. STATUES 70th Congress, session 11, chapter 526; 71st Congress, session II, chapters 41, 198, 287


Author's Note:

The U. S. archives has over 100 boxes of material from the U. S. Quartermaster in New York City relating to the four years of Pilgrimages. Due to time limitations the author has not been able to review the material prior to publication. However, this will be reported back to the TAMS membership, along with the numbers submitted by those participating in the survey.


TAMS Journal: Official Organ of the Token and Medal Society

Volume 20, Number 6, December 1980

Used with permission of Mr. George S. Cuhaj and the TAMS


Copyright 2009 - Present by George S. Cuhaj & TAMS
All rights reserved

Jan. 1, 2009
Jan. 1, 2009