The history of Flag Day

The Fourth of July was traditionally celebrated as America’s birthday, but the idea of an annual day specifically celebrating the Flag is believed to have first originated in 1885. B.J. Cigrand, a schoolteacher, arranged for the pupils in the Fredonia, Wisconsin Public School, District 6, to observe June 14 (the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes) as ‘Flag Birthday’. In numerous magazines and newspaper articles and public addresses over the following years, Cigrand continued to enthusiastically advocate the observance of June 14 as ‘Flag Birthday’, or ‘Flag Day’. On June 14, 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, planned appropriate ceremonies for the children of his school, and his idea of observing Flag Day was later adopted by the State Board of Education of New York. On June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration, and on June 14 of the following year, the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution, celebrated Flag Day. Following the suggestion of Colonel J. Granville Leach (at the time historian of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution), the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America on April 25, 1893 adopted a resolution requesting the mayor of Philadelphia and all others in authority and all private citizens to display the Flag on June 14th. Leach went on to recommend that thereafter the day be known as ‘Flag Day’, and on that day, school children be assembled for appropriate exercises, with each child being given a small Flag. Two weeks later on May 8, the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution unanimously endorsed the action of the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames. As a result of the resolution, Dr. Edward Brooks, then Superintendent of Public Schools of Philadelphia, directed that Flag Day exercises be held on June 14, 1893, in Independence Square. School children were assembled, each carrying a small Flag, and patriotic songs were sung and addresses delivered. In 1894, the governor of New York directed that on June 14 the Flag be displayed on all public buildings. With B.J. Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn as the moving spirits, the Illinois organization, known as the American Flag Day Association, was organized for the purpose of promoting the holding of Flag Day exercises. On June 14, 1894, under the auspices of this association, the first general public school children’s celebration of Flag Day in Chicago was held in Douglas, Garfield, Humboldt, Lincoln, and Washington Parks, with more than 300,000 children participating. Adults, too, participated in patriotic programs. Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, delivered a 1914 Flag Day address in which he repeated words he said the flag had spoken to him that morning: ‘I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.’ Inspired by these three decades of state and local celebrations, Flag Day’the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777’was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson’s proclamation, it was not until Aug. 3, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day. Frequently Asked Questions: Q: Why is the Flag patch on U.S. Armed Serivces uniforms “backwards”‘ A: Army Regulation 670-1, ‘Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia,’ updated most recently Sept. 5, 2003, addresses explicitly the proper and lawful placement of the U.S. flag patch on the Army uniform. The regulation states that when authorized for application to the proper uniform the American flag patch is to be worn, right or left shoulder, so that ‘the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The appropriate replica for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the ‘reverse side flag’.’ Q: Where is the Flag flown 24 hours a day by law’ Historical Note: After the addition of the new House and Senate wings in the 1850s, even before the great dome was completed in 1863, photographs of the period show flags flying over each new wing and the central east and west fronts. The custom of flying the flags 24 hours a day over the east and west fronts at the Capitol was begun during World War 1. This was done in response to requests received from all over the country urging that the flag of the United States be flown continuously over the public buildings in Washington, D.C. Q: What do the colors and gold fringe on the Flag mean’ A: Sentimental writers and orators sometimes ascribe meanings to the colors in the flag. The practice is erroneous, as are statements on this subject attributed to George Washington and other founders of the country. From the book ‘Our Flag’ published in 1989 by the House of Representatives… ‘On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution authorizing a committee to devise a seal for the United States of America. This mission, designed to reflect the Founding Fathers’ beliefs, values, and sovereignty of the new Nation, did not become a reality until June 20, 1782. In heraldic devices, such as seals, each element has a specific meaning. Even colors have specific meanings. The colors red, white, and blue did not have meanings for The Stars and Stripes when it was adopted in 1777. However, the colors in the Great Seal did have specific meanings. Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, reporting to Congress on the Seal, stated: ‘The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness and valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.’ Also this from a book about the flag published in 1977 by the House of Representatives… ‘The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.’ The quote below concerning gold fringe on the Flag is from the book ‘So Proudly We Hail, The History of the United States Flag’ Smithsonian Institute Press 1981, by Wiliam R. Furlong and Byron McCandless. ‘The placing of a fringe on our Flag is optional with the person of organization, and no Act of Congress or Executive Order either prohibits the practice, according to the Institute of Hearaldry. Fringe is used on indoor flags only, as fringe on flags on outdoor flags would deteriorate rapidly. The fringe on a Flag is considered and ‘honorable enrichment only’, and its official use by the US Army dates from 1895.. A 1925 Attorney General’s Opinion states: ‘the fringe does not appear to be regarded as an integral part of the Flag, and its presence cannot be said to constitute an unauthorized addition to the design prescribed by statute. An external fringe is to be distinguished from letters, words, or emblematic designs printed or superimposed upon the body of the flag itself. Under law, such additions might be open to objection as unauthorized; but the same is not necessarily true of the fringe.’ The gold trim is generally used on ceremonial indoor flags that are used for special services and is believed to have been first used in a military setting. It has no specific significance that I have ever run across, and its (gold trim) use is in compliance with applicable flag codes and laws.

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