Original U.S. WWI Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimage Named Medal and Documents Grouping

Item Description

Original Items: One-of-a-kind Set. In 1931 Mrs. Nellie Ruth Parker made the journey to France from her home in Denver, Colorado to visit the grave of her son who we believe was a United States Marine named Harry W. Gruver (117170) who was born in 1893.

During the 1920s, the Gold Star Mothers' Association lobbied for a federally sponsored pilgrimage to Europe for mothers with sons buried overseas. Although many of the women who belonged to the organization had visited their sons' graves, they realized that women often could not afford the trip to Europe. In their testimony, these women placed great emphasis on the bond between a mother and son. The bond between wife and husband seemed almost secondary in the congressional debates. The bond between fathers and sons was barely considered--the association maintained that the maternal bond surpassed that of the paternal bond.

In 1929 Congress enacted legislation that authorized the secretary of war to arrange for pilgrimages to the European cemeteries "by mothers and widows of members of military and naval forces of the United States who died in the service at any time between April 5, 1917, and July 1, 1921, and whose remains are now interred in such cemeteries." Congress later extended eligibility for pilgrimages to mothers and widows of men who died and were buried at sea or who died at sea or overseas and whose places of burial were unknown. The Office of the Quartermaster General determined that 17,389 women were eligible. By October 31, 1933, when the project ended, 6,693 women had made the pilgrimage. Once the quartermaster determined a woman was eligible, she was sent a questionnaire.

This is a collection of items that belonged to Mrs. Nellie Ruth Parker and involve her pilgrimage to France in 1931. The items include:

- U.S. Special Pilgrimage Passport No. 4506 named to Mrs. Nellie Ruth Parker along with photograph. The passport is stamped in multiple places TRIP COMPLETED 1931 and CANCELLED. The french immigration stamps shows she entered the country on September 3rd, 1931. The passport is in excellent condition. Also included is the original paper envy from the Department of State.

- War Mothers and Widows Pilgrimage Official Certificate of Identification. This book is named to Mrs. Nellie Ruth Parker and includes her photograph. It is serial number 5509.

- American Pilgrimage Gold Star Mothers and Widows Identity card named to Mrs. Nellie Ruth Parker. This card has an English side and a French side and explains that she is a member of the GOLD STAR MOTHER PILGRIMAGE and asks the reader to assist her in her travels and if an accident occurs to "telephone the number indicated above". The card is housed in a celluloid case.

- Neck medal given to the mothers by the United States Lines, the shipping company which brought the Gold Star mothers to Europe. It was designed and manufactured by Tiffany & Co.

- Gold Star Mothers medal, numbered 5509 on the reverse which matches her Identity card. These medals were given to all those traveling on the pilgrimage. This is one is also named to Mrs. N. Parker / Colorado. The medal has its original box.

- Small folded American flag.

- Three WWI photo post cards all of which feature the same man in USMC uniform who we believe to be her son.

- WWI Dog Tag for Harry W. Gruver USMC 117170

Overall an incredibly rare set as only 6,693 women ever made the trip!

In the aftermath of World War I, wives became widows, and mothers outlived their sons. More than 100,000 Americans died during the Great War, creating suffering and pain for those family members they left behind. Through the Gold Star pilgrimages of 1930 to 1933, the U.S. government specifically recognized the sacrifices of these mothers and widows who chose burial in an overseas American military cemetery for their sons or husbands.

As the war raged, the Gold Star became a symbol for mourning the fallen. Families who lost a loved one in the service hung a Gold Star in their windows. Their female relatives referred to themselves as Gold Star mothers and widows, and they created several national organizations for collective mourning and support. These groups lobbied Congress for an official government-funded pilgrimage to visit their loved ones’ graves, which the government authorized on March 2, 1929.

All mothers and un-remarried widows of someone buried or memorialized at an ABMC cemetery received an invitation. Over the course of the program 6,654 women participated. These pilgrims represented the diversity of the American army in World War I. However, in keeping with the Jim Crow-Era segregation of the military at the time, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps racially segregated the pilgrimages. African-American women traveled in separate groups, a decision that created much controversy. While many objected, 168 African-American women still participated as pilgrims.

Even after the crash of the stock market in October 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, the federal government funded the entire pilgrimage. The Quartermaster Corps meticulously organized the program and cared for the mothers and widows. They arranged every detail of the journey and monitored the pilgrims’ physical and emotional health. Escorted by Army officers and nurses, the pilgrims traveled to many of the major tourist sites in the countries they visited, including the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where they laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They subsequently traveled to the cemeteries and visited the battlefields and memorials in addition to the graves of their loved ones.

Cemetery staff decorated the graves with the flags of the U.S. and the host country. They provided a chair for the pilgrim to sit next to the headstone and reflect. Each pilgrim received a photograph of herself at the tombstone, where she also laid a memorial wreath. These personal touches added to the dignity of the pilgrimages and demonstrated the government’s commitment to the cemeteries.

The Gold Star pilgrimages honored these women’s sacrifices and eased their grief. After her 1930 pilgrimage to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Mrs. O.B. Johnson of Iowa told the Army how “the Government is certainly doing the right and square thing by the Gold Star Mothers. We were treated with respect and deference…on the whole a wonderful trip.” Many pilgrims expressed their admiration for the ABMC cemeteries. Mrs. Ettie M. Brown and Mrs. George Ingersoll visited the Saint-Mihiel American Cemetery and declared that “the cemetery is kept beautifully and we feel our sons have a lovely resting place.”

Through the Gold Star pilgrimages, women played a key role in the early commemorations at the ABMC cemeteries. The government recognized that these women served the nation through their losses, and acknowledged the importance of providing them with the opportunity to visit the overseas graves of their fallen family members. The ABMC mission during the Gold Star pilgrimages was the same as it is today: to maintain military cemeteries with honor, so that the loved ones of the fallen can find solace in the dignified care of their eternal resting place.

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