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The gold star mothers of Minnesota

The title “gold star mother” was used unofficially to describe a woman who had lost a child in service until the national organization, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., was established in 1929.

Mrs. J. P. Mohan, Gold Star mother, with flag, St. Paul, 1918.
Mrs. J. P. Mohan, Gold Star mother, with flag, St. Paul, 1918.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Robert. L. Queisser was the first to hang a flag in his window that displayed a blue star for each living family member serving in the United States military. A gold star replaced a blue one when a family member was killed in service. Queisser patented this “service flag” in 1917 after the United States entered World War I. The gold star symbolized the honor of each person’s sacrifice rather than the personal loss in traditional mourning symbols.

In 1918, Grace Darling Seibold’s son, George Vaughn Seibold, was killed in France. Seibold organized a group of mothers who had also lost children in the war to support each other and devote their time to caring for hospitalized veterans. In 1928, she met with 25 mothers in Washington, D.C. to establish the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. (AGSM). On Jan. 5, 1929, the organization was incorporated.

Minnesota mothers had been organizing under the “gold star” title as well. In 1921, a group of gold star mothers took part in a ceremony on Minneapolis’s Victory Memorial Drive. There, they helped to plant 555 trees to honor each serviceman and servicewoman on the Hennepin County Gold Star Roll.

By 1930, Minnesota gold star mothers where eligible to apply for the national organization. Mina Blanch Hart Carlson of St. Cloud, whose son Herbert Leroy Hart died in France in 1918, was the first member accepted from Minnesota. Mothers from across the state joined the AGSM, but there was no Minnesota chapter at that time.

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One of the AGSM’s first actions was to lobby for a federally funded pilgrimage for gold star mothers to visit their children’s graves in Europe. On March 2, 1929, an act of Congress authorized funding for the pilgrimage. A War Department investigation revealed that 354 mothers and stepmothers from Minnesota were eligible to make the trip; 91 said that they desired to do so in 1930. The estimated cost was more than $5 million.

Lizzie Schafman of New Brighton was one of the Minnesotans who made the pilgrimage. She visited the grave of her son, Walter Schafman, in France.

The War Department segregated the pilgrimages by ethnicity, which caused conflict within the Black community. The NAACP called for a boycott of the pilgrimages, but 279 Black mothers elected to make the journey.

In 1942, the AGSM opened membership to mothers who had lost children in World War II. They opened membership again for each subsequent conflict.

The first Minnesota Chapter of the AGSM was chartered in Minneapolis on Jan. 22, 1949, and was called the Southside Chapter. It had 18 members. A Northside Chapter was chartered on May 7, 1949, and had 25 members. In the years that followed, gold star mothers established several more local chapters throughout Minnesota.

In 1978, the AGSM celebrated its 50th birthday. Its members had served over two million hours in Veterans Administration medical centers by this time.

By 1991, only three Minnesota chapters remained, with dwindling numbers. Since the Vietnam era, fewer mothers had chosen to join. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, all Minnesota chapters of the AGSM were inactive. With the beginning of the War on Terror, however, the number of gold star mothers in the state began to rise again.

In the summer of 2009, a group of Minnesota gold star mothers asked the National AGSM Office for a new charter for a state chapter. The charter was granted on Oct. 1, 2009. It included all of Minnesota and welcomed mothers from North and South Dakota as well, since those states did not have active chapters. Their goals are to honor their children by volunteering in their communities, assisting veterans, promoting patriotism, and helping each other heal.

In 2014, Governor Mark Dayton declared Sunday, Sept. 20, to be Gold Star Mother’s Day.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.