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The Women Behind the Flag

The Women Behind the Flag 
by Patricia Chadwick

June  14, 2000 marks the 223rd birthday of the U.S. Flag.  In 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes pattern for the national flag.   Often overlooked in the history of the flag are the contributions of  two women who have had a hand in making two of the most important flags in history:  Betsy Ross and Mary Young Pickersgill.

Over the years there has been much controversy as to who indeed made the first American Flag.  While attempts have been made to disprove it, it is generally accepted by most Americans that the first American Flag was fashioned by Betsy Ross. While there is no historical record of Mrs. Ross being commissioned to make the first flag, there is a strong verbal record, handed down from generation to generation, beginning with Betsy’s own family.

Tradition holds that about five months later, in June of 1776, Betsy Ross received a visit from a secret committee sent by the Continental Congress that was authorized to design a flag for the nation-to-be.  The committee included George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Colonial Army, Col. George Ross, Betsy’s uncle by marriage, and Robert Morris, a wealthy businessman.  They asked that Betsy make the flag according to a rough drawing they carried with them.  She consented to attempt the work after suggesting  some slight changes, one being a star of five-points instead of six. Washington redrew the flag design in pencil in her back parlor and Betsy spent the next few days sewing the flag in her home.

When she was finished, she called for the committee who took it to the State House where Congress approved the design.  While the committee had gone to other seamstresses, Betsy Ross’ flag is the one the Continental Congress decided upon, and they gave her a standing order.  She continued making flags for the United States Government for the next fifty years.

Next we will look at the flag that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner”. While many know the story behind Francis Scott Key penning the beloved “Star Spangle Banner”, not many know the story of the flag that was flown at Fort McHenry that inspired the Key to write the words that would become the National Anthem of the United States of America.  This flag was created by Mary Young Pickersgill.

Mary Young Pickersgill was born in 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the difficult period of the Revolutionary War.  Her family moved to Lebanon, Pennsylvania during the war and later to Baltimore.  There she was married and was widowed.

Mary took up the trade of flagmaking, needing to support herself and her daughter.  She became quite skillful at the trade and became well-known as a flagmaker. Therefore, during another critical time in U.S. History, she was selected to make the flag for Fort McHenry.  In 1813, Major George Armistead hired Mary Young Pickersgill to sew a flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, the number of states then in the Union. Anticipating an attack on Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812, Major Armistead asked that the flag be made extra large so that it would be plainly visible to the English Fleet.  He had also hoped the large flag would lift the spirits of the Baltimoreans, allowing them to see this flag fly in defiance of the British.

Mary and  her daughter Caroline, then only a mere 13 years-old, accomplished the task in six weeks. She took great care to make sure the flag was well constructed. The entire flag was sewn by hand with flat felled seams and tight stitching, so it would not come apart in the wind.  It required four hundred yards of wool material and the finished flag measured  30 by 42 feet.  The flag had to be assembled in a nearby malt house, because there was no other place large enough to assemble it.

This flag was used as the garrison flag of Fort McHenry during the British siege of the fort during the War of 1812.  When Francis Scott Key saw the flag from a ship eight miles down the Patapsco River on September 14, 1814, the flag was still waving in the breeze after twenty-five hours of heavy bombardment by the British.  The British were very discouraged to see it still there, but Key was inspired to write the poem that became the our National Anthem.

As we celebrate Flag Day this year, let’s take time to remember the great women BEHIND the flag!

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    History of Mother’s Day

    The History Behind Mother’s Day

    All across the world, over 46 countries honor mothers with a special day, but not all nations celebrate on the same day. We honor mothers with cards, candy, flowers and dinner out. But have you ever considered how this became a legal holiday in the United States?

    Mother’s day was first suggested in the United States by Julia Ward Howe, writer of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She suggested that this day be dedicated to peace. Miss Howe organized Mother’s Day meetings in Boston, Mass. yearly.

    In 1877, Mrs. Juliet Calhoun Blakely inadvertently set Mother’s Day in motion. On Sunday, May 11, 1877, which was Mrs. Blakely’s birthday, the pastor of her Methodist Episcopal Church left the pulpit abruptly, being distraught over the behavior of his son. Mrs. Blakely stepped to the pulpit to take over the remainder of the service and called for other mothers to join her. Mrs. Blakely’s two sons were so touched by her gesture that they vowed to return to their hometown of Albion, Michigan every year to mark their mother’s birthday and to pay tribute to her. In addition, the two brothers also urged business associates and those they met while traveling as salesman to honor their mothers on the second Sunday of May. They also urged the Methodist Episcopal Church in Albion to set aside the second Sunday of each May to honor all mothers, and especially their own.

    While there were local celebrations honoring mothers in the late 1800’s, it was largely due to the efforts of Anna Jarvis that Mothers Day became a national holiday in the United States. Anna’s mother, Mrs. Anna M. Jarvis, had been instrumental in developing “Mothers Friendship Day” which was part of the healing process of the Civil War. In honor of her mother, Miss Jarvis wanted to set aside a day to honor all mothers, living and dead.

    In 1907, Miss Anna began a campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. She persuaded her mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia to celebrate Mother’s day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death, the 2nd Sunday of May. By the next year Mother’s Day was also celebrated in her own city of Philadelphia.

    Miss Jarvis and her supporters began to write to godly ministers, evangelists, businessmen, and politicians in their crusade to establish a national Mother’s Day. This campaign was a success. By 1911, Mother’s Day was celebrated in almost every state in the Union. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the official announcement proclaiming Mother’s Day as a national holiday that was to be held each year on the second Sunday of May.

    The one-woman crusade of Anna Jarvis is often overlooked in History books. Women during the early 1900s were engaged in many other reform efforts that t

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      History of Father’s Day

       THE HISTORY OF FATHER’S DAY
           In today’s world, Father’s Day seems like a tradition that has been around forever. The truth of the matter is, however, that Father’s Day is a relatively new institution, which became an official holiday only 29 years ago.

      While there is a discrepancy over who was actually the originator of the holiday, both people who are credited with the earliest Father’s Day celebrations were women. While some feel that the first Father’s Day observance was planned by Mrs. Charles Clayton of West Virginia in 1908, popular opinion credits Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Washington with the idea.

      Sonora Smart Dodd had lost her mother during the birth of her sixth child. For twenty-one years her father, William Jackson Smart, raised his six children on his own, making all the parental sacrifices that come with raising a family. To Sonora, her father was the perfect example of a selfless, loving, courageous man.

      In 1909, while listening intently to a Mother’s Day sermon extolling the virtues of motherhood, Sonora longed for a way to honor her father for all he had done for her and her siblings. It is then that she came up with the idea of holding a Father’s Day celebration to honor fathers everywhere.

      Mrs. Dodd was able to gain support for a local Father’s Day celebration from the town’s ministers and members of the local Y.M.C.A. The date suggested for the first Father’s Day was June 5, 1910, William Smart’s birthday. However, because of the time needed to prepare for the celebration, the date of the first Father’s Day celebration was moved to June 19, the third Sunday in June. The rose was selected as the flower to be worn in Father’s Day celebrations; the red rose for those whose father was living and the white rose for those whose father had passed away.

      Newspapers across the country that were endorsing Mother’s Day carried stories of the Father’s Day observance in Spokane. Interest in Father’s Day increased and local observances popped up across the nation. The state of Washington made Father’s Day an official holiday that same year.

      Though the holiday was popular as a local celebration in many communities, it wasn’t readily accepted nationally. In 1912, J.H. Berringer, of Washington conducted a Father’s Day service, choosing to wear a white lilac as the Father’s Day flower. In 1915, Henry Meek, president of the Lions Club of Chicago also began promoting Father’s Day celebrations. He gave several speeches around the United States supporting Father’s Day and in 1920 the Lions Clubs of America presented him with a gold watch with the inscription “Originator of Father’s Day”.

      Many famous people supported Father’s Day and attempted to secure official recognition for the holiday including William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, and Calvin Coolidge. In 1916 President Wilson observed the holiday with his own family and in 1924 President Coolidge gave his support to states wishing to hold their own Father’s Day observances believing that widespread observance of the holiday would draw families closer together. In 1957 Senator Margaret Chase Smith lobbied Congress for a national Father’s Day, but it wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father’s Day. In 1972, President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Father’s Day to be held on the 3rd Sunday of June.

      Today, Father’s Day is celebrated across the globe. While it is not as widely celebrated as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is the fifth-largest card-sending occasion in America, with over 85 million greeting cards exchanged.

       

      This article may be re-published as long as the following resource box is included:
      Patricia Chadwick is a freelance writer and has been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. She is currently a columnist in several online publications as well as editor of two newsletters. Parents & Teens is a twice-monthly newsletter geared to help parents connect with their teens. Subscribe at www.parentsandteens.com. History’s Women is weekly online magazine highlighting the extraordinary achievements of women. Subscribe at www.historyswomen.com/subscribe.html.

       

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