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The origins of Flag Day

Our flag, long may it wave
Our flag, long may it wave
public domain

June 14 is Flag Day. Other than a note on a calendar, Flag Day is one of those occasions that gets easily overlooked. While it is not a holiday, it was first established by proclamation of President (and Columbia resident) Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and recognized by an Act of Congress in 1949.

June 14, 1777 was the date the “Stars and Stripes” was adopted as the national flag, but it wasn’t until 1885 that the idea of a “Flag Birthday” was first originated in Fredonia, Wisconsin. In 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, planned appropriate ceremonies for his school and the idea was later adopted by the New York State Board of Education. On June 14th, 1891, 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, celebrated Flag Day.

Flag Day was primarily a local affair with celebrations designated by local municipalities. Philadelphia, where the Flag was adopted, celebrated Flag Day in 1893 in Independence Square.Schoolchildren were given a small flag, patriotic songs were sung and addresses given.

The following year, 1894, the Governor of New York, Roswell P. Flower, directed that, on June 14, that the flag be displayed on all public buildings. Also in 1894, the first Flag Day celebration took place in Chicago with more than 300,000 schoolchildren participating.

In 1914, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K Lane delivered an address in which he repeated words he said the flag had spoken to him: “I am what you make me, nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.”

After almost thirty years of local celebration, President Wilson established Flag Day by proclamation in 1916. It was later recognized by an Act of Congress in 1949 signed by President Harry S Truman.


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