19th Amendment Victory Flag

It was 99 years ago today, 18 August 1920, that Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and the United States officially recognized women’s right to vote. Today, we’re flying a “19th Amendment Victory Flag” to mark the occasion.

The road to passage was a long one. Universal suffrage for white men was, mostly, completed by the 1830s. The Women’s Rights Movement began in the decades before the Civil War and was organized nationally in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. In 1869, the Wyoming Territory extended voting rights to women and retained the provision when it became a state in 1890. Colorado (1893), Utah (1896) and Idaho (1896) followed suit. Still, by 1900, only these four states recognized voting rights for Women; a fact immortalized in the “Women’s Suffrage Flag” shown below.

This remained the status quo until 1910 when Washington State expanded voting rights, paving the way for other stares to follow. In January 1917 the Women’s Rights Party, led by Alice Paul, began posting “Sentinels of Liberty” in front of the White House. These women stood in silence, holding flags and banners quoting President Wilson’s own words about liberty.

In return, these women were spat upon and subjected to ridicule, violence and arrest. But the movement was taking hold. In 1918 the arrests were ruled unconstitutional and Wilson declared his support for suffrage. The following year the Suffrage Amendment passed both houses of Congress with the required two-thirds vote and was sent to the states for ratification.

Alice Paul adds a star to the Victory Flag.
Library of Congress Collection

Thirty-five states had approved the amendment by March 22nd, 1920 but there the process stalled, just one state short of ratification. Worse, of the thirteen states remaining, eight states had already rejected the amendment, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi and Delaware. Things didn’t look promising when Tennessee took up the amendment on August 18th; most of the other southern states had voted to reject. With less than three months to go before the 1920 election, three states were called upon to hold special sessions to approve the amendment and refused. Only Tennessee’s legislature was still in session; this could be the last chance to ratify before the election. The Tennessee Senate passed the amendment.

The Flag of the National Women’s Party
The Victory Flag is revealed upon passage.
Library of Congress Collection

Enter Phoebe King “Febb” Ensminger Burn, mother of Harry T. Burn who at 25 was the youngest member of the state legislature. Mrs. Burn, inspired by a political cartoon, wrote her son a long letter, “Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt,” she wrote. “I’ve been watching to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet.” Referencing the cartoon, she continued, ”Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the RAT in ratification.” Harry had originally intended to vote for ratification, but after pressure from party leaders and receiving “misleading telegrams from his constituents” he joined the anti-suffrage side. This left the state legislators tied with 48 votes for ratification and 48 votes for rejection. When the Legislature met, Harry had his mother’s letter in his coat pocket. The first vote went as expected, 48 to 48. At least two votes to table the matter failed and the another vote was called on the merits, Harry addressed the assemblage. ”I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” he told his colleagues. He then changed his vote and the Women’s Suffrage Amendment became part of the constitution.

The 19th Amendment Victory flag is based on the flag of the National Women’s Party, which is a horizontal tricolor using the Party’s three official colors. The meanings of the color’s were explained in the Suffragist in December 1913.

“Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.”

To create the victory flag, two rows containing 18 five-pointed stars each were added to represent the thirty-six states who had ratified the Amendment prior to passage. Every state has now ratified the 19th Amendment, the last being Mississippi on 22 March 1984.

References:

Image Credits:

  1. Featured Image: ComicsTheUniverseAndEverything.net
  2. Woman Suffrage Flag
  3. Suffragette Flags
  4. http://library.austintexas.gov/ahc/votes-women-54444

Happy 4th of July! Bennington Flag


Happy Independence Day everyone! Last year to celebrate, we flew the Betsy Ross flag. This year we’re flying what is, at least according to legend, another Revolutionary War flag, the Bennington Flag. Legend has it that this flag was flown by General John Stark and his men at the Battle of Bennington, which happened in Walloomsac, New York on 16 August 1777. General Stark’s forces, including troops from the Republic of Vermont, defeated the British forces under the command of Lt. Colonel Friedrich Balm. This was a turning point in the war, leading to the defeat of the British at the Battles of Saratoga.

So, the Bennington Flag is purportedly an “early US” flag that stands beside many others. The “Betsy Ross” flag is probably the most recognizable but others include the Cowpens Flag (below, right) and the flag designed by Francis Hopkins for the US Navy which used 6-pointed stars and arranged the stars in rows with a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern.

Two Early US Flags

Why so many? Well, on 14 June the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution of 1777.

Resolved: That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.

This leaves a lot unspecified, namely the arrangement and orientation of the stars, the kind of star, the size of the union (or “canton”) and whether there are 7 red stripes or 7 white stripes. Individual flag makers made their own decisions on these points leading to the plethora of variants. The Bennington Flag mostly adheres to the Flag Resolution with some distinctive variations, including the arrangement of the stars inside a canton that is taller than it is wide. The choices to make the outer stripes white and to use 7-pointed stars are also uncommon. The one departure is the addition of the large “76” in the canton to reference the passage of the Declaration of Independence.

The legend claims that the original Bennington Flag was flown at its namesake battle and was carried off the battlefield by Nathanial Fillmore He passed the flag onto his nephew, Septa Fillmore who carried it in the Battle of Plattsburg, the turning point in the War of 1812. Subsequently, the flag was passed down to other relatives including President Millard Fillmore and Philetus Fillmore who flew the flag during the centennial celebrations for American Independence and the Battle of Bennington. Because of its close affiliation with the family, this flag is also called “the Fillmore Flag.” If I were determining the nomenclature, I’d probably keep the term “Fillmore Flag” for the original flag that now resides in the Bennington Museum.

The Green Mountain Boys Flag

That Fillmore Flag was examined by Grace Rogers Cooper, Curator of Textiles at the Smithsonian Institution. She determined it to be of 19th century origin and dated it to around 1820. The flag itself is made of cotton and sewn with cotton thread neither of which would have been readily available in 1777. Various theories exist as to its possible origin; it may have been made during the War of 1812 to evoke the spirit of the Revolution or it may have been made to celebrate the visit of Lafayette to the US in 1824 or the semicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One thing that’s generally agreed upon is that that particular flag could not have been at the Battle of Bennington. What was flown at the battle? The “Green Mountain Boys Flag” shown above, a regimental standard know to have been flown by General Stark and his men. The Green Mountain Boys Flag is currently the flag of the Vermont National Guard.

References:

Picture Credits:

A Flag of which to be Proud

Hetero flag

It’s Pride Month and so we’re flying a “Straight Ally” flag to show our support. I’m not wild about the flag itself. The stylized “A” for ally with the rainbow motif is both perfect and visually striking. Unfortunately the background lessens the effect somewhat; the

Friz Freleng | Dr. Grob's Animation Review

black and white strips remind me of an old style prison uniform and it has a lot of contrast. Because of this the rainbow A doesn’t stand out as well as I would have liked. I probably wouldn’t have thought about it quite so much but the first version of the Ally flag that I saw had graduated shades of gray in the background and looked better. But the marketplace once again has spoken in order to choose the version I don’t like as well.

Of course, the Ally flag is a derivative of the traditional LGBT Pride Flag which was designed by Gilbert Baker and first flown in San Francisco in 1978. The rainbow may have been inspired by Judy Garland’s “Over The Rainbow.” Interestingly the flag originally consisted of eight stripes representing sexuality, life, healing,

sunlight, nature, magic & art, serenity and spirit. Over time, the number of stripes were reduced to the six we see on the ally flag. We’ve never gotten a complete spectrum on any version of the flag but you have to admit, as a metaphor for inclusiveness, it’s hard to go wrong with a rainbow.

It seems like the Pride Flag is in process of increasing the number of colors again. There’s a new version which adds stripes to support people of color and another which adds a white stripe to represent the full spectrum of gender and sexuality as well as “peace and union among all.”

The Ally flag always puts me in mind of a joke from “Dimitri Martin: Person” which is pretty funny. Interestingly, the first thing I found when I was looking for this clip was a discussion of whether or not the shirt described in the bit would be offensive. I hope not; as a society we currently seem to be actively seeking things to offend us and that isn’t healthy.

Refracted Light

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_flag_(LGBT_movement)#Rainbow_colors_as_symbols_of_LGBT_pride

Happy Earth Day

Well, the UFP Flag didn’t end up being flown for very long. We’re now flying the Earth Day flag that was designed by John McConnell, founder of Earth Day in 1969. This version of the flag features the famous photograph of the Earth that was taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft. The original version was screen printed; but both were official Earth Day promotional items used to advertise the occasion.

The flag I’d originally wanted to fly for Earth Day is the “Flag of the Earth,” (shown below) that was designed by James W. Cadel. It shows a stylized collection of the Earth, Moon and the sun. It flies at Observatories and SETI installations world wide.

References:

The Flag of the Earth


The UFP Flag and Beginning Vexillology

We’re flying a new flag this morning; specifically the flag of the United Federation of Planets. If flew for a day a few weeks ago, but it was wet and windy and the flag kept getting tangled around the pole so I decided to take it down for a bit.

In the meantime, we purchased a Valley Forge Tangle-Free Aluminum Pole (not pictured above) from the Horseheads Do It Center. It’s working beautifully so far. The flag is affixed directly to the pole through the grommets and the entire top section of the pole rotates freely. The weight of the flag itself keeps it from wrapping around the pole.

United Federation of Planets - Wikipedia

I like this flag, however, it puts me in mind of a lot of state flags, most of which are pretty dreadful. I therefore thought I’d look at it in terms of the North American Vexillogical Association’s criteria for evaluating/creating flags.

NAVA’s five criteria for creating a good flag were first codified in 2001 when they conducted a survey to choose the best and worst flags on the continent. These are:

  1. The design of the flag should be simple enough that a child could draw it from memory.
  2. It should use clear and understandable symbolism.
  3. The flag should use common colors; probably no more than four different ones.
  4. Both text and seals should be avoided.
  5. Finally, the flag should be unique as it represents a distinct entity. It can however, show similarities to other flags, to show connections.

A nice example of the last criterion is the similarities between the flags of Ohio and the United States. The flags are distinct but the common elements make it clear that the US and Ohio are closely related.

Flag of  Nebraska

We could segue to a long discussion of state and province flags, but we’ll save that for another day. The existing state flag closest to the bottom of the NAVA survey was Nebraska.

Flag of  Alaska

The dubious distinction for last place was given to Georgia, but that flag was changed in 2003. Meanwhile, my favorite state flag has to be Alaska; simple and elegant with clear symbolism. It’s a classic.

The UFP flag fares pretty well according to the NAVA standards. The design is simple and clean. The colors, blue and white are classic and attractive. The weakest element of the flag is the text. Like the conventional wisdom assumes, it’s difficult to read as the flag waves in the wind, especially as the text is backward on one side of the flag. It’s also an odd choice; the Federation contained over 150 member worlds at one point, each of which probability had its own language. I think it remains an odd choice even though English had evolved into “Federation Standard.”

Flag of the United Nations.svg

To think about the symbolism, it makes sense to look back to the obvious inspiration for the UFP flag, the Flag of the United Nations. The blue color was chosen in contrast to “red, the war color.” The world map represents all the people of the world. The map projection is surrounded by olive branches, a common metaphor for peace.

The similarities to the UFP flag are striking and the symbolism transfers in a straightforward manner. The branches are similar, though may not be of terrestrial origin. The galactic map with the density of the stars in an off-center diagonal line is evocative of a section of one of the spiral arms of the galaxy.

Here's what the Milky Way may look like from deep space ...

Earth and presumably most of the other member worlds of the Federation are located in the Orion Spur, a minor arm of the Milky Way, which exists between the Perseus and Sagittarius Arms of the galaxy. In universe and otherwise, the similarities between the UFP flag and the UN flag make sense since one organization is clearly an inspiration for the other. If the UN still existed in the 23rd Century, the two flags might be too similar to be flown together, but I suspect the UN flag has been supplanted by a “United Earth” flag.

One place where the symbolism of the UFP flag seems lacking is that there are three stars in the galactic map that are stylized as four-pointed stars rather than circles. These stand out and in a standard flag, these might represent the founding worlds of the Federation. Unfortunately, there are four; Earth, Vulcan, Andor and Tellar Prime. This is not surprising. The UFP flag was designed long before the founding worlds were codified in “These are the Voyages…” the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise. I might be inclined to add a fourth four-pointed star.

References:

Happy Thanksgiving! Great Star Flag.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

35-Star US Flag

It’s been awhile since I changed the flag outside and I decided to swap for today, in honor of the holiday. Specifically, we’re now flying a 35-Star American Flag with the stars in what is known as a great star configuration.

The 35-Star Flag became the official flag of the United States on 4 July 1863 when a star was added for West Virginia. It remained the official flag until 1865 when the 36th Star was added to represent Nevada.

The relevance to Thanksgiving Day? Although the holiday was celebrated a various times prior to 1863, the modern celebration dates back to 1863 when Abraham Lincoln called for a National day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. This was the national flag on that day.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of historical evidence for a 35-Star flag with a great star configuration, most show the stars in a rectangular array. Congress doesn’t typically specify the configuration of the stars, but there were 20, 26, 33, 34 and 36-Star Great Star variants. Great stars were popular and commonly flown on private ships in the early part of the 19th Century.

The closest historical flag that I can find to the version I’m flying was one of many mourning flags for Abraham Lincoln.  This one had an additional star in the center of the great star and a black border. According to loeser.com,

It should be understood that these special flags are only examples because the engines were switched as the train was passed from railroad to railroad. There were at least five or more different engines used to pull the train on its journey, plus more pilot locomotives that ran the tracks ahead of the actual train to make sure the tracks were clear. Each railroad used their best and most powerful engines to move the funeral train slowly from station to station and they each decorated their engines differently with locally made flags…

Other sources indicate that this flag was used for later periods of national mourning, including for President Kennedy in 1963.

References: