The Father of Flag Day

Flag Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Stars and Stripes by the Continental Congress in 1777, isn’t one of our better-known holidays. No one gets the day off. There are no fireworks. And really, there’s no special commemoration, because people fly American flags every day.

It’s notable for this blog, though, because Flag Day was the invention of a Chicagoan, Bernard Cigrand, who was dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry.

Cigrand first came up with the idea in 1885. As a 19-year-old schoolteacher in Wisconsin, Cigrand propped a flag in a bottle on his desk, and assigned his students to write a theme about it. The next year, Cigrand moved to Chicago to enroll in dental school. While still a student, he wrote an article for the Chicago Argus entitled “The Fourteenth of June” -- his first public advocacy of Flag Day. Later, Cigrand was appointed editor-in-chief of the American Standard, a publication of the patriotic group the Sons of America. He used that position to organize the first observance of Flag Day. On the third Saturday in June of 1894, over 300,000 Chicago schoolchildren gathered in Douglas, Garfield, Humboldt, Lincoln and Washington parks to salute the American flag.

This led to the formation of the National American Flag Day Association (Bernard Cigrand, president), and finally, to President Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 proclamation of Flag Day as a nationwide observance.

When Cigrand died, in 1932, he was eulogized as the Father of Flag Day. The Wisconsin schoolhouse where he came up with the idea has been restored, and is the site of annual Flag Day celebrations. So has his grave, in Montgomery’s Riverside Cemetery. In the early 2000s, a suburban Boy Scout discovered Cigrand had been buried without a headstone, and raised money to pay for a plaque commemorating his celebration of the American flag. 

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