Translation of the article by Heino Prunsvelt, a longtime collector and researcher of German orders and awards, more that 20-year member of DGO*.
The Cross of Merit for Women and Maidens was founded on 22 March 1871 by King Wilhelm I of Prussia (1797-1888) to award women who, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, showed outstanding dedication and support for the fighting troops and their families.
All awards were given on the personal proposal of Queen Augusta (1811-90), upon confirmation by the king.
The first awarding ceremony took place on 9 April 1871 when 35 women from the nobility were honoured for their support of voluntary nursing. The medal was last awarded in 1875.
Queen Augusta of Germany wearing the Cross of Merit for Women and the Order of Louise
CLARA BARTON during the seventh International Conference of the Red Cross in St Petersburg (1902) wearing her awards
A total of 2979 awards have been documented, out of these
80 – to women of non-German descent, with
27 crosses going to Swiss recipients,
16 – to British citizens, the best known of whom is the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale (1820-1910),
11 crosses were awarded to Dutch women
9 – to Russian,
8 – to Belgian,
5 – Austria-Hungarian,
2 – Italian and
2 were received by Americans, among them Clara Barton (1821-1912) famous pioneering nurse and founder of the American Red Cross.
It is of course especially interesting for us in Tallinn that among the 9 women who received this high recognition as subjects of the Russian Empire, two also had direct connection to Estonia.
The first of them was Pauline von Bergmann, born von Porbeck (1842-1917), the wife of the famous professor of medicine at the University of Tartu, Ernst von Bergmann.
Professor Ernst von Bergmann (1836-1907) is known for his work as surgeon during the Austro-Prussian (1866), Franco-Prussian (1870-71) and Russo-Turkish wars (1877-78) as he pioneered the practice of asepsis technics in wound care. And, although we do not have any information at present, from the high award that she received, we can assume that Pauline von Bergmann often accompanied her husband and took an active part in the care of the wounded soldiers.
The other recipient is Baroness Sophie von Nolcken from Luunja Manor, Livonia, born Countess von Stackelberg (1825-1909). This award focuses on the Baroness’s personal achievements and requires more research, as until today she was mainly known as the mother of Baron Arved Georg von Nolcken, the architect and constructer of the famous Alatskivi Castle (1885).
Baroness Sophie von Nolcken
The Cross of Merit for Women and Maidens and the War Commemorative Medal for 1870/71 for non-combatants. Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood
The design of the award is proof of its high standing: the appearance and shape is similar to the Iron Cross, with the exception of the emblem of the Red Cross in the centre of the obverse. The reverse holds the royal crown above the intertwined monograms “A” and “W” and the date of 1870–1871. The cross measured 33,4 W and 33,3 H with a 35 mm wide ribbon. The cross was worn suspended from a bow on the left side. The ribbon is the same as that of the Iron Cross for Non-combatants, white with black stripes at the edge.