Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! Nothing I collect has drawn more attention from outside interests than my Laura Gardin Fraser collection of coins and medals. For instance, my set entitled “The Coins and Medals of Laura Gardin Fraser” won NGC’s “2016 Most Creative Custom Set” award. Additionally, I’ve had numerous requests relating to this set, from permission to publish my pictures to a request to repatriate an awarded medal back to the recipient’s family. I’ve also had solicitations from cold contacts to purchase scarce medals, one of which is in my collection today. Furthermore, I am privileged to own two medals previously owned by the Frasers.
On top of that, I gave a Money Talks presentation on Laura Gardin Fraser at the 2019 ANA World Fair of Money show in Chicago and a podcast interview with Coin World magazine. Still, it’s the contacts and friends I have made along the way that means the most to me.
Now, I am being honored by a museum. The Vrijheids Museum (Freedom Museum) in the Netherlands asked me to loan them a medal from my collection for an exhibit they will be running until October 2022. That medal is Laura Gardin Fraser’s 1913 Better Babies Medal. The exhibit will detail the worldwide rise of eugenic philosophy in the early 20th century.
The Better Babies contests sought to educate parents in early childhood development and hygiene to combat the high infant mortality rate at the dawn of the 20th century. Better Babies contests were conducted at well-known venues like county and state fairs. Babies entered into the competitions were judged against specific scientific standards of early childhood development. The Better Babie medal was among several awards that parents and their babies could win by entering these contests. One of my problems with Better Babies is that infants were being judged at fairs, much like livestock. Thankfully, today, a healthy baby is a parents’ reward through well-baby exams measured by scientific standards at the pediatrician’s office.
Another problem with Better Babies and other programs like it was that they opened the door to eugenic movements here in the US and around the world. Sadly, the logical end to eugenics leads to racism, forced sterilizations, abortions, human breeding, and ethnic cleansing. Some say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. History demonstrates this to be true with Better Babies.
Coins and medals have stories to tell. Sometimes I wish that Laura Gardin Fraser hadn’t been tasked to design this medal. Then again, collectors hoping to uncover history through the coins and medals they collect must chronicle the good with the bad. We are not to whitewash history but to tell the truth and learn from history. I have learned things in the coins and medals I collect that they didn’t teach me in school. I hope that the Freedom museum will do likewise with its eugenics exhibit.
I’ve had several e-mail conversations with a museum intern to iron out the details of my loaning them the Better Babies medal. The top issue was how my medal would be portrayed in a eugenics exhibit. The following paragraph will quote the intern’s response word for word, to which I heartily agreed.
From January 2022 till October 2022 we will have an exhibition in our museum about a group of people European societies classified as “antisocial”. In occupied Europe during world war 2, people who received this label could be sent to concentration camps and/or be killed. Most of this was done in the name of eugenics, as these “antisocial” people were not viewed as having the “right” traits (according to some people), which meant they should not reproduce (sadly, similar to Jewish people). We would like to show that not only Nazi Germany had a eugenics movement, but many countries around the world as well. With your medal, we would like to show how eugenics movements came into being in other countries. With our exhibition, we would like to warn visitors about eugenics movements and the seemingly innocent thoughts that precede them. We think your medal would be a good addition to our story and exhibition.
If anyone is curious, I didn’t end up returning the “National Institute Of Social Sciences” medal to the family of its awardee, Clara D. Noyes. However, I promised to sell the medal back to the family if I found a replacement. Unfortunately, this medal is rarely available for sale, and I have not found a replacement. Interestingly, the family member that contacted me wrote a biography on Clara D. Noyes and graciously sent me a signed copy.
Again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Gary
P.S. In a future blog, I’ll be posting pictures of my medal in its exhibit. I just hope that COVID won’t ruin things by keeping people out of the Freedom Museum in the Netherlands ☹