Missouri waited four years to become the twenty-fourth state in the Union, and another eighty-two years to fly a state flag. And wouldn’t you just know it, the Missouri State Society of the Daughters of the American Republic had a role in it. If you’ve never said Thank You to the ladies of the DAR for all their hard work, now is the time to do it.
A long-time active community volunteer, Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, was fifty when she joined the Daughters of the American Republic in Cape Girardeau. In 1908, Missouri DAR asked Mrs. Oliver, now a state regent, to chair a committee to research and design an appropriate flag for Missouri, and see it though to adoption by the state legislature.
Marie Oliver, wife of former Missouri state senator Robert B. Oliver, was surely aware of what it took to pass any kind of legislation. She took the flag request to heart, and wrote to the Secretaries of State of every state and territory in the Union, seeking information about how other states had designed their flags and had them officially adopted. When Oliver had gathered sufficient information, she designed a flag to historically represent the state. Her design was an adaption of the Missouri state seal, or coat of arms.
The original flag design was painted on paper by classically-trained artist Mary Kochtitzky also of Cape Girardeau, and Marie Oliver’s friend. In 1908 the the flag was taken to the state capitol in Jefferson City for viewing.
Marie Oliver’s husband, Robert—no longer in the senate and practicing law again—drafted a bill to make the flag the official flag of Missouri and sent the bill to his nephew Sen. Arthur L. Oliver, who introduced the bill in the senate on March 17, 1909. The bill passed in the senate but failed in the house. The General Assembly was considering the design of another flag created by Dr. G.H. Holcomb.
A Competing Design
I could not find a graphic representative of the “Holcomb flag,” but the flag is described as having thirteen stripes like the U.S. flag, and a blue canton in the upper left corner. Inside the canton are the letters “MO” in a gothic font, surrounded by twenty-four stars. It is an easy flag to envision—too easy perhaps. The critics of the Holcomb flag said that it too closely resembled the Stars and Stripes, and failed to represent the spirit and character of Missouri. It was, however, a popular contender for the official state flag.
But of Marie Oliver’s flag, and her description, the Senator stated:
“The Constitution of the state provides that the emblems and devices of the Great Seal of the State as heretofore prescribed by law, shall not be subject to change. The coat-of-arms is a part of the great seal of the state and unquestionably should be made a prominent feature of a state flag. The Doctor Holcomb design for a state flag introduced in the House is objectionable in that it does not contain the coat-of-arms, and because the general design is similar to the national flag.”
“It is liable to cause a confusion in the field and elsewhere.There is nothing in the Holcomb design that indicates state sovereignty of the relation of the state to the Union, except the abbreviation of Missouri by the use of the letters ‘Mo.'”
“At the same time it represents the state as possessing a local independence, a local self-government, but in perfect harmony with the great national compact, as shown by the mingling of the colors, red, white and blue, on every side of it.”
“The coat-of-arms of the state is in the center of the national colors and represents Missouri as she is–the geographical center of the nation. The (24) stars on the blue band encircling the coat-of-arms signifies that Missouri was the twenty-fourth state admitted into the Union of States. The blue in the flag signifies vigilance, permanency and justice, the red, valor, and the white, purity.”
“The crescent on the shield, in heraldry, represents the second son, so our crescent on this shield denotes that Missouri was the second state (Louisiana being the first) formed of the territory of the great Louisiana Purchase. The helmet of the coat-of-arms indicates enterprise, and hardihood and signifies state sovereignty.”
“The great grizzly bears are peculiarly appropriate to a state traversed by the Missouri River, and in our coat-of-arms and on this flag these bears signify the size of the state, the strength of the state and the courage of her people, and further, they represent protection to the state from invasion from every source.”
“This design for a state flag represents that while we, as a state are independent and support ourselves as a state, we are also in perfect harmony with and constitute an important part in the support and maintenance of the national government. The motto shows that the will of the people is the supreme law of the state. This flag, therefore, stands for something.”
State business delayed
Voting on the flag designs stalled, and then the Missouri State Capitol burned in 1911, destroying Oliver’s original paper flag. Artist Mary Kochtitzky, who had painted the first flag was out of state, so Oliver and Mrs. S.D. MacFarland, worked together to duplicate Kochtitzky’s artwork on a second flag. Made of silk, this flag was a beauty.
On January 21, 1913, the Oliver Flag Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. The Missouri DAR and the Colonial Dames approved, supported, and urged their legislators to vote yes on the design. When the Governor expressed his support for the flag, that was enough. It passed on March 7 and was quickly signed by the Senate, which sent it directly to the governor. Governor Elliott Woolfolk Major signed the bill, making the Oliver flag the official flag of Missouri on March 22, 1913.
In Oliver’s own words
In her own words, Marie Oliver described her flag design: The design I offer embraces all the colors of the national flag—red, white and blue—which recognizes that the State of Missouri is a part and parcel of the Federal Government. At the same time it represents the state as possessing a local independence, a local self-government, but in perfect harmony with the great national compact as shown by the mingling of the colors red, white and blue, on every side of it. The coat-of-arms of the state is in the center of the national colors and represents Missouri as she is—the geographical center of the nation. The twenty-four stars on the blue band encircling the coat-of-arms signifies that Missouri was the twenty-fourth state admitted into the Union of States. The blue in the flag signifies vigilance, permanency and justice; the red, valor; and the white, purity.“[Dains, Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies, v. 1, p. 258.]
Marie Oliver kept the original flag for the rest of her life, and would show it to people who expressed an interest. Allen Oliver, her son, donated the flag to the State of Missouri in 1961 where it was put on public display. When it began to show wear, the flag was put into storage. In 1988, on the flag’s 75th birthday, elementary students from around the state raised enough money to restore the flag, which is now on display in the James C. Kirkpatrick State Information Center in Jefferson City.