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1917 New York City Federation of Women's Clubs Medal of Honor, Awarded to Lady Ralph Paget. Gold, Unc.
Gold 1917 New York Federation of Women’s Clubs Medal of Honor
(First) One of Only Eight Such Decorations Awarded
112 millimeters overall height, 47.2 millimeters width, with 150 x 54 millimeters pale yellow back ribbon. 59.8 grams overall. 14 karat. Designed by Charles G. Finney Wilcox. Suspender is an intricately detailed frosty gold American bald eagle with white enamel head and neck feathers and ruby eye, smoothly polished gold back. The eagle perches on a gold rod connected by short lengths of chain to a seven-pointed, ball-tipped gold and enamel star.
The 29.6 millimeters center disc is inscribed AD ALCYONE LUCIDIS SUMAE PLEIADUM HONORIS CAUSA, In Honor of Alcyone Brightest of the Pleiades. The deeply concave royal blue enamel field bears nine white gems in gold star settings that represent this stellar formation. Alcyone was held by the ancients to be the star around which all others revolved.
The Pleiades in Greek mythology were the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, transformed into seven stars. The decoration actually bears nine stars, perhaps recalling that the Pleiades are not a specific formation but stars that only appear to form a constellation when viewed from earth.
Rev: eight-line raised inscription of New York City Federation of Women's Clubs ending TO LADY RALPH PAGET, A.D. MCMXVII. Below is the engraved maker's name BRAXMAR/ N.Y./ 14 K. In original moire silk-covered case of issue by C.G. BRAXMAR JEWELERS, 10 & 12 Maiden Lane, New York.
Recipient Louise Margaret Leila Wemyss Paget was born in London on Oct. 9, 1881, only daughter of Sir Arthur Henry FitzRoy Paget (1851-1928) and Mary Fiske Stevens (died 1919). Her father was grandson of the first marquess of Anglesey and rose in the British Army to general officer commanding forces in Ireland (1911-1917), where he was identified with the Curragh "mutiny" against implementation of Irish Home Rule in 1914. His mother was American-born and the couple was prominent in British society, buttressed by their close friendship with King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
After making her debut, Leila (as she was then called) avoided active participation in the "smart set." She married her third cousin once removed, Ralph Spencer Paget (1864-1940), a diplomat then serving as British Minister to Siam, based in Bangkok. The bride loved Siam, and found their next posting in Bavaria (1909-1910) dull by comparison. Becoming Lady Paget when her husband was created Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1909, she encouraged her husband to accept transfer to the Balkan Kingdom of Serbia in July 1910.
Encouraged by Mabel Grujic, American wife of the Serbian Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Lady Paget helped set up a military hospital in Belgrade during the triumphal First Balkan War, 1912-1913, in which Serbia doubled its size. World War I broke out as a result of Serb terrorist Gavrilo Princip's assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Lady Paget returned from California to London to join the Lord Mayor's Serbian Relief Fund (SRF).
She led the first SRF unit of four doctors and 16 nurses to a primitive military hospital in Skoplje, where they treated Serb wounded and Austro-Hungarian POWs as well. Her battle with inadequate supplies, unsanitary conditions, and epidemic diseases recalled the efforts of Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. She came down with typhus and was reported to have died in March of 1915. After the Austrians and Bulgars overran Serbia in 1916, Lady Paget and her British medical staff were taken prisoners, but were well treated and eventually repatriated to England.
King Peter I awarded her the Grand Cordon of the Serb Order of Saint Sava. She was an honored guest at the state funeral of assassinated King Alexander in 1934, and assisted Yugoslav refugees in England during the Second World War. She died a revered figure in Red Cross and humanitarian circles in September 1958.
Lady Paget's heroic efforts made her the first recipient of the Medal of Honor of the Federation of Women's Clubs of New York City in 1917. Other recipients included
humanitarian Evelyn Smalley (1919),
Salvation Army and Volunteers of America leader Maud Ballington Booth,
the great women's rights pioneer Carrie Chapman Catt, contemporary of Susan B. Anthony (1922, decoration without the eagle),
Mary Margaret Hay, physicist Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie (1929),
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, First Lady of the Republic of China (1939), and
Austrian-born pioneer atomic scientist Lisa Meitner (1949).
Descended from this Medal of Honor is the Liberty Eagle, a pin in the shape of a gold eagle perched on a large pearl, worn by First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush; Cindy McCain wore this form of eagle during the presidential campaign of husband Senator John McCain. Hillary Clinton wore this decoration on her lapel during a famous appearance on the "Today Show" where she defended her husband, President Bill Clinton, for his publicized indiscretions.
The Lady Paget Medal of Honor may be the only example accessible to collectors; the Catt specimen is in the Smithsonian. As a rarity and a decoration of beauty it has no equal.
Cindy McCain wearing
the Liberty Eagle.
(1918-19 edition also incl.)
Incl. are dossiers of research (in English and Serbian) totaling hundreds of pages, and the following books:
Club Women of New York, 1918-19
Krippner, Monica, The QUALITY OF MERCY: Women at War, Serbia 1915-18
Paget, Lady, With our Serbian Allies: Second Report, 1916
Strong, Richard P., Typhus Fever with Particular Reference to the Serbian Epidemic, 1921