During World War I, families began to hang flags in their windows that displayed a gold star for each relative killed in military service. 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. Many Minnesota mothers claimed membership, and local Minnesota chapters followed.
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 twenty-five mothers in Washington, D.C. to establish the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. (AGSM). On January 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.
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; ninety-one said that they desired to do so in 1930. The estimated cost was over 5 million dollars.
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 race, which caused conflict within the African American community. The NAACP called for a boycott of the pilgrimages, but 279 African American 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 January 22, 1949, and was called the Southside Chapter. It had eighteen members. A Northside Chapter was chartered on May 7, 1949, and had twenty-five members. In the years that followed, gold star mothers established several more local chapters throughout Minnesota.
In 1978, the AGSM celebrated its fiftieth 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 October 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, September 20, to be Gold Star Mother’s Day.
American Gold Star Mothers Record Collection
Institutional Records, American Gold Star Mothers National Office, Washington D.C.
Description: The collection contains records documenting the creation and development of the American Gold Star Mothers, including the group’s the Minnesota chapter.
American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. History.
American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. Minnesota Chapter, About Us.
American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Administrative Law and Governmental Relations of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-eighth Congress, second session, on H.R. 3811, March 21, 1984. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1984.
Dayton, Mark. State of Minnesota Gold Star Mother’s Day Proclamation. The Office of the Governor of Minnesota, September 20, 2014.
Fenelon, Holly S. American Gold Star Mothers: A History, 1928–2010. Doylestown, PA: Winans Kuenstler Publishing, 2010.
Gene Skiba Collection
New Brighton Area Historical Society, New Brighton
Description: Documents from Lizzie Schafman, a Gold Star Mother, whose son, Walter Schafman, died in World War I, including images and documents from her 1930 pilgrimage to visit Walter’s grave.
Haga, Chuck. “Gold Star Mothers still care, still cry.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 2, 1991.
Hennepin County War Records Committee. World War Gold Star Roll of Hennepin County: Program and Exercises for the Dedication of Memorial Trees on the Victory Memorial Driveway. Minneapolis: Satterlee Printing, 1921.
Kreiser, Christine M. “Gold Star Mother.” American History 47, no. 4 (October 2012): 19.
Plant, Rebecca Jo, and Frances M. Clarke. “‘The Crowning Insult’: Federal Segregation and the Gold Star Mother and Widow Pilgrimages of the Early 1930s.” Journal of American History 102, no. 2 (September 2015): 406–432.
United States War Department. List of Mothers and Widows of American Soldiers and Marines Entitled to make a Pilgrimage to the War Cemeteries in Europe. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1930.
On January 5, 1929, American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. is incorporated in Washington, D.C.
The United States enters World War I.
Robert L. Queisser patents the service flag, which displays a blue star for each living family member serving in the military and a gold star for each family member killed in service.
George Vaughn Seibold is killed in France, prompting his mother, Grace Darling Seibold, to organize a group of mothers who have also lost children in the war to support each other and devote their time to caring for hospitalized veterans.
A group of Minnesota gold star mothers participates in a tree-planting ceremony on Victory Memorial Drive in Minneapolis to honor over 550 fallen servicemen and servicewomen from Hennepin County.
Seibold and twenty-five other mothers meet in Washington, D. C. to establish the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. (AGSM).
With a push from the AGSM, on March 2, an act of Congress authorizes federal funding for a pilgrimage of gold star mothers and widows to visit their sons’ graves in Europe.
Mina Blanch Hart Carlson of St. Cloud, whose son Herbert Leroy Hart died in France in 1918, is the first member accepted to the AGSM from Minnesota.
Gold star mothers, including Lizzie Schafman from New Brighton, begin making federally funded pilgrimages to Europe.
The AGSM opens membership to mothers who lost a son or daughter in World War II.
On January 22, the first Minnesota Chapter of the AGSM is chartered and known as the Southside Chapter. The Northside Chapter is chartered on May 7.
The AGSM celebrates fifty years of activity. By this time, its members have served over two million hours in Veterans Administration medical centers.
The Northside Chapter in Minneapolis, the Borderland Chapter in International Falls, and the Itasca Chapter in Northwest Minnesota are the only three remaining AGSM chapters in Minnesota.
The charter for a new Minnesota Chapter of the AGSM is granted on October 1.
Governor Mark Dayton declares Sunday, September 20, to be Gold Star Mother’s Day.