Harry Waterson published a nicely illustrated article on American Legion school award medals in the January 2014 issue of The Clarion, the official publication of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists, editor by Richard Jewell. With permission, here's an excerpt. Thanks to Richard and Harry for their assistance.
1921: Thomas Evans, a member of the State Americanism Commission conceived of a medal to be awarded to boys and girls somewhat along the line of the award provided for in the will of Cecil Rhodes. At the next state convention in Pittsburgh of the Pennsylvania Department of the American Legion, the plan was approved for an American Legion School Award to go to the best all-around boy in the graduating class of every grammar school in Pennsylvania where there were ten or more boys in the competition. Dr. R. Tait McKenzie, noted sculptor and WWI veteran, then head of the Department of Physical Education at the University of Pennsylvania, was commissioned to design the medal. "After many suggestions and conflicting ideas he produced the beautiful medal which was adopted. To satisfy the Marines, their motto "Semper Fidelis," was placed at the feet of the soldier and sailor." So wrote a contemporary Legionnaire.
It is bronze, 3-inches wide and struck by Medallic Art Company. The legend FOR GOD & COUNTRY are the first four words of the preamble to the American Legion Constitution and the two combatants are seen straddling a war torn French landscape.
1950: The American Legion School Award medal was completely revamped. A new design front and back, One uniform size. This design was applicable for award to either boys or girls. Again in bronze, 2½-inches across from the Medallic Art Company.
The legend, motto, name and award attributes are the same as the male award from 1922 but the central devices are all new. The military motif on the obverse is now WWII with a soldier, sailor and airman in the foreground with troops in full pack going by behind. At parade rest, on alert and on the march, the medal is all about military preparedness. The reverse has lost the eagle and moved to a central composition of a radiant lamp of knowledge sitting atop an open book above a crossed olive branch and feather pen. A very well thought out design for this award. The sculptor has not been identified but he was certainly talented and skillful. The sculptor Paul Fjelde (1892-1984) has been suggested but further research is required.
1973: The next American Legion School Award looked like this:
This time the eagle has landed back on the front of this 2½-inch bronze medal and SEMPER FEDELIS the marine motto in exergue has slipped away. The 1963 reverse is continued and this is the medal in use today. It was struck by Medallic Art Company. This is a much more generic School Award medal that emphatically states 'American Legion' without any other editorial.
Can anyone identify the sculptor of the 1950 medal?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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