A Brief History of Flag Day


Ingloriously crammed between the summer’s other two big holidays – that would be Memorial Day and Labor Day – Flag Day doesn’t tend to get much respect. Perhaps things would be different if we got the day off, or if there was any kind of actual glamour surrounding the holiday, perhaps the advent of a signature Flag Day snack or cocktail? Or maybe Flag Day just needs something simple – like a brief history  to help contextualize it against the backdrop of summer’s better-known holidays.

What Is Flag Day?

Before we go digging for some Flag Day dirt, it seems prudent to address just what the holiday is actually meant to celebrate. Every June 14th, the United States doesn’t just celebrate the flag as a single entity; it actually celebrates the adoption of the flag itself, which happened nice and early in American history – June 14, 1777. Basically, Flag Day is the birthday of the American flag. Please don’t celebrate with candles and cake.

Flag Day’s Unfailing Supporters

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You’d think that getting a holiday to honor the most recognizable symbol of America, the Stars and Stripes, would be pretty easy. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Although the flag was adopted as the country’s official banner in 1777, it took nearly one hundred and fifty years for it to get its own holiday, something that a lot of people worked to make happen.

There’s some debate over who first suggested the holiday – one story holds that, in 1861, Hartford, Connecticut resident George Morris suggested the idea, which then led to a formal observance of the day (June 14th) in his hometown.

Other sources claim that it was B.J. Cigrand who invented Flag Day when the schoolteacher had his Wisconsin class celebrate it in 1885 at the Stony Hill School. Even if Cigrand didn’t really think up the day, he became its poster boy (he’s still known as “the Father of Flag Day”) and its biggest supporter, traveling around the country to chat up groups about the need for an official Flag Day and other ways to be patriotic. Cigrand eventually became editor-in-chief of American Emblem magazine, a publication dedicated to, well, American emblems. Later, Cigrand became the president of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society.

In 1893, Pennsylvania resident (and Benjamin Franklin descendent) Elizabeth Duane Gillespie tried to get a state resolution passed that required the flag to be put on display in each of Philadelphia’s public buildings.

The next year, Flag Day was celebrated in Chicago, and the highly successful event was repeated the year after that. Flag Day was catching on!

In 1889, another schoolteacher, New York City’s George Balch, had his class celebrate Flag Day on June 14th, an idea that proved popular enough to be adopted by the State Education Board of New York for the whole state.

In 1907, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks officially designated June 14th as Flag Day, and the fraternal order and social club has celebrated it every year since (in 1911, they even made it mandatory for all Lodges to observe it, that’s how serious they are about Flag Day). The Elks even pushed the sitting President to give Flag Day some official status, which finally happened in 1916.

Why Don't We Get Flag Day Off?


President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation that created the official holiday we know as “Flag Day,” way back in 1916. Yet the holiday didn’t become a national one until 1949, when an Act of Congress turned the day into “National Flag Day.” Ever wonder why we don’t get Flag Day off? Because it’s not a federal holiday, most of which are celebrated by the glory of a free day from work and school.

If you live in Pennsylvania or New York, though, your Flag Day experience might be a bit different – Pennsylvania adopted Flag Day as a state holiday back in 1937, and New York has designated the second Sunday of June as the official state holiday celebration of Flag Day.

The Army Connection

The flag shares its birthday with another important American institution – the United States Army, which was created as the “American Continental Army” by the same Second Continental Congress that passed the resolution to adopt the new flag.

Celebrating the Holiday


What’s the best way to celebrate Flag Day? By flying your flag, of course! The week of June 14th is officially “National Flag Week,” and all U.S. citizens are encouraged to fly their flag for at least part of the period. You can get more serious with a parade or another fun event, as long as the flag is present and appropriately cared for and flown.

Want to really do up this Flag Day? Go visit the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia or Cigrand’s old school in Wisconsin, which has been fully restored to reflect the time period during which he supposedly thought up the holiday.

Other People’s Flags


America is, of course, not the only country to celebrate the creation of their flag with an official Flag Day – Australia’s Flag Day is in September, Argentina also celebrates in June, and Canada honors their own maple leaf the day after Valentine’s Day.

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

NASA // Public Domain
On This Day in 1983, Sally Ride Made History
NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

Thirty-five years ago today, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She flew on the space shuttle Challenger on a six-day mission. She had previously helped build the shuttle's robot arm, and now she operated it in space. Not only was she the first American woman to go to space, she was the youngest astronaut in space, at age 32.

(As with many space-related firsts, that "American" qualifier is important. The Soviet space program had sent two women cosmonauts into space well in advance of Ride. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova flew all the way back in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. They also sent various younger people to space, including Tereshkova.)

Ride represented a change in the previously completely male astronaut program. Although NASA had unofficially tested women in the late 1950s as part of the Mercury program, the idea of sending women into space was quickly discarded. NASA policy for decades was that only men would be considered as astronauts. It took until 1978 for NASA to change the policy—that year, six women became astronauts: Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon, and Shannon Lucid.

Ride and her colleagues were subject to an endless barrage of sexist media questions, curious how women might fare in space. They also encountered institutional sexism at NASA itself. Ride recalled:

"The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. ... You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit."

Ride held a Ph.D. in astrophysics, two bachelor's degrees (English and physics), and had served as CapCom (Capsule Communicator) for the second and third shuttle flights, STS-2 and -3. She was an accomplished pilot and athlete, as well as a Presbyterian elder. She was closely connected to Challenger, performing two missions on it and losing four fellow members of her 1978 class when it exploded.

After her astronaut career concluded, Ride served on both the Challenger and Columbia disaster review panels. During the former, she leaked vital information about the Challenger disaster (o-ring engineering reports), though this wasn't broadly known until after her death. She wrote educational books and founded Sally Ride Science. She was asked to head up NASA by the Clinton administration, but declined.

Ride died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Her obituary made news for quietly mentioning that she was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. Although Ride had come out to her family and close friends, the obituary was the first public statement that she was gay. It was also the first time most people found out she'd suffered from pancreatic cancer at all; she asked that donations in her memory be made to a fund devoted to studying that form of cancer.


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