Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Women's History Month 2013: Gold Star Mothers

Resources for Researching Your Female Ancestor, Day # 12

The Gold Star Mothers has its historical roots in World War I.  The idea behind this group came from the initial tragedy experienced by Grace Siebold.  An American woman, Grace Darling Siebold’s 23 year old son, George Vaughn Siebold, was assigned to the British Royal Flying Corps.  George had a love for aviation and since America did not yet have an Air Force, all Americans who were aviators were assigned to the British Flying Corps. 

During the War, Mrs. Siebold spent her time visiting with returning service men recuperating in local hospitals.  Mrs. Siebold received letters from her son regularly but one day those letters stopped.  Because technically her son was not part of the American military forces, Mrs. Siebold could not get information about what, if anything, had happened to him.  On Christmas Eve, 1918, a knock at the door came and a package that read, “Effects of Deceased Officer, First Lieutenant, George Vaughn Siebold, Attached to the 148th Squadron, BRFC.”  No other information was provided.  Months later, Mrs. Siebold received the official news that her son had been killed in aerial combat in August of 1918.

This experience led Grace to build a community of mothers who had lost sons in the war.  In 1928, twenty-five mothers established the national organization, American Gold Star Mother, Inc. which is still in existence today.

The Gold Star Mothers came to be known as such because during the war, families would place a service flag in their window that indicated with blue stars how many members of their family were serving in the war.  If a family member was killed during their service, a gold star was placed over his blue star to symbolize the honor and glory that should be given to such a serviceman who gave his life. 

Gold Star Pilgrimages

World War I saw 100,000 American servicemen who were killed and buried overseas.  The U.S. government gave families a choice; they could bring their loved one home for a burial locally or could have their family member reburied in a cemetery yet to be built in Europe.  While many of the families chose to have their loved one re-interred in the United States, 33,000 chose to have their family members buried in Europe

In the 1920’s mothers started lobbying the government to fund pilgrimages to their loved ones graves in Europe. While the wealthy could afford to travel to Europe, the trip was too costly for many of the American women who longed to see the resting place of their son or husband.  After 10 years and the involvement of such people as U.S. Representative and future New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, the mothers got their wish.

On February 7, 1930, in the Red Room of the White House, President Woodrow Wilson’s wife Lou reached into a silver bowl and pulled out one of 54 envelopes.  Each envelope contained the name of a state or oversees territory.  The order the envelopes were picked would determine what order the women would take their pilgrimage. The first state picked was Nebraska.  Three months later 231 women left for Europe.   From 1930-1933 the United States government conducted a series of trips for the mothers and widows of fallen servicemen.  Once at the cemetery, the government provided a wreath of flowers, a picture of the woman at her loved one’s grave and three to four days of privacy.  By the end of this program in August 1933, approximately 6,693 women made the gold star pilgrimage abroad. 

For information about the pilgrimage, see the Quartermaster’s Review  or the NARA Prologue article, World War I Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimages.

To obtain a list of eligible mothers and widows for the gold star pilgrimages consult, List of Mothers and Widows of American Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Entitled to Make a Pilgrimage the War Cemeteries in Europe, 71st Cong., 2d sess., House Document No. 140 (GPO: Washington, D.C., 1930).  To find a copy of this list consult a library that is a Federal Depository Library.  Federal Depository Libraries  include some public libraries and university libraries. 

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