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The State Flag of Illinois

State Flag of IllinoisIt has been a long time since I put up a state flag story, but it’s a good day to write about Illinois. By my count, Illinois is one of only five white flags in the colorful array of state flags. But it is by no means a plain flag. In fact, it features a plethora of national patriotic symbols.

Illinois became a state in 1818, yet it was almost one hundred years later—in 1915—before Illinois got around to adopting a state flag. If you have read other state flag stories at The Daily Flag, you won’t be surprised when I tell you the ladies from the Daughters of the American Revolution were behind the creation of the Illinois state flag.

In 1912, Ella Park Lawrence, a resident of Galesburg, Illinois and State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), attended a national DAR meeting in Washington, D.C. While in the national capital, Mrs. Lawrence discovered that the State of Illinois did not have a state flag. She came home and began a strong campaign to adopt a design for state flag.

Mrs. Lawrence visited D.A.R. chapters across Illinois, and lobbied state officials and members of the Illinois General Assembly in her efforts to promote interest in an official State flag. She sent a letter to every D.A.R. chapter in Illinois, offering a $25.00 prize to the organization that submitted the best design for an official State flag.

The winning entry was submitted by Lucy Derwent of the Rockford Chapter. Derwent’s design was based upon the state’s seal, created in 1868 by Illinois’ Secretary of State, Sharon Tyndale.

On a white background stands a bald eagle perched on a gray rock. On the rock are two dates: 1818, representing the year Illinois was admitted to the Union, and 1868, the year of Tyndale’s state seal design. In its beak, the bald eagle holds a red ribbon upon which the State Motto, “State sovereignty, national union” is written. A red, white, and blue shield lies tilted against the rock. It contains 13 stripes and 13 stars to represent the number of original colonies.

ella-lawrence-with-illinois-state-flagThe design was approved by the General Assembly and became law on July 16, 1915. Ella Lawrence requested five hand-made flags. They were distributed to the D.A.R. Memorial Continental Hall in Washington D.C., the Illinois State D.A.R., the Illinois State Historical Society, the Illinois Governor and the Illinois Secretary of State. One of these originals now hangs in The Henry Knox Room, located on the first floor of the Old Knox County Courthouse.

Flags with the initial design flew proudly for 55 years until Chief Petty Officer Bruce McDaniel initiated a change in design. McDaniel, then serving in Vietnam, became concerned when the identity of the Illinois flag was often questioned as it hung along side many other state flags in the mess hall where he was stationed. He proposed that a new design include the state’s name as well.

Mrs. Sanford Hutchinson was asked to draft the new design, because she had been extensively involved in the development of the state seal. The new design, now with the name “Illinois” appearing in blue print underneath, was accepted on July 1, 1970 as the official flag of Illinois.

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