This Sunday, June 14, is Flag Day. On June 14, 1777 Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the United States of America. For more than 100 years after that date, however, there was no official holiday to commemorate the flag and its significance.
Bernard J. Cigrand, a young teacher working at the Stoney Hill School near Fredonia, Wisconsin, began the process that eventually led to the recognition of June 14 as Flag Day. In 1885, on the anniversary of the adoption of the flag, Cigrand placed a small (ten inches) flag with 38 stars in an inkwell on his desk and then assigned his students to write an essay explaining what the flag meant to them. Upon the completion of the assignment, however, Cigrand continued to advocate for the adoption of a holiday to observe the significance of the flag.
Others mimicked Cigrand’s sentiment in the late 1800s, perhaps as a means of assisting in the Americanization of the country’s immigrant children. In 1889, for example, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City planned activities for his students to recognize the flag on June 14. Soon after, the State Board of Education of New York adopted Flag Day as a holiday to be observed by all public schools in the state. Two years later, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration and the following year the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution officially observed Flag Day. In 1893, Dr. Edward Brooks, then Superintendent of Public Schools of Philadelphia endorsed a resolution that would allow school children in that city to celebrate Flag Day.
On May 30, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson officially requested that Flag Day be recognized as a national holiday occurring every June 14 but it was not until President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress on August 3, 1949 that June 14 was officially established as National Flag Day.
There are now 27 official versions of the flag, changing each time a new state was officially added to the nation. All 27 versions can be seen on display in the Americanism Center Avenue of Flags of the National Flag Day Foundation’s headquarters located in Waubeka, Wisconsin where Bernard J. Cigrand was born. Though our nation and our flag have undergone dramatic changes since the Stars and Stripes were first adopted, the sentiment that the flag represents remains unchanged.
I have never been to Waubeka, Wisconsin, but I have visited the Flag House in Baltimore, Maryland. Built in 1793, this house was the home and place of business of Mary Pickersgill, the woman who made the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1812 and inspired attorney Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem. As you may know, that flag is part of a famous exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC and is one of our nation’s cherished artifacts. While there are many famous flags in our nation’s capital, my favorite is the flag on the USMC War Memorial which represents the sacrifices that so many have made to preserve our nation’s independence and freedoms.
This Sunday, please fly your flag proudly and take a moment to reflect on the historic and symbolic importance of the values and sentiments it represents.