Idaho History

1916 was a banner year for celebrating U.S. flag

Wednesday is Flag Day, the 229th anniversary of the adoption by Congress on June 14, 1777, of the stars and stripes as our national flag.

This "birthday of the flag" was not celebrated in Idaho or anywhere else in the country until 1885, when a 19-year-old Wisconsin teacher assigned essays on the history and meaning of the flag to his students.

Patriotic organizations and a few local governments around the country gradually took up the celebration of Flag Day.

The day was proclaimed an official U.S. holiday on Memorial Day, May 30, 1916, by President Woodrow Wilson. Europe was at war, and Americans hoped to avoid being drawn into it.

Idaho National Guard troops would soon be sent to the Mexican border after Pancho Villa crossed into New Mexico and killed Americans.

The national mood was patriotic, and Wilson's proclamation of Flag Day stirred Idahoans to organize suitable celebrations.

Boise had celebrated Memorial Day in 1916 with special attention paid to the more than 100 Civil War veterans still living in the city, some of them in the Idaho Veterans Home on State Street where Veterans State Park is today.

On the evening of Sunday, June 11, 1916, the Rev. Willsie Martin of Boise's First Methodist Church preached a sermon on the history and significance of the U.S. flag.

"It is the symbol of the highest American ideals; it represents the establishment of a new type of nationalism based not on the homogeneity of race, but on homogeneity by loyalty. It represents a square deal, a fair chance, and a tolerable life for all humanity."

On June 13, Mayor Samuel H. Hays urged the owners of every automobile and horse-drawn carriage in Boise Valley to decorate their vehicles with red, white, and blue bunting and to join the big Flag Day parade.

A committee of judges was appointed to award cash prizes of $10 and $5 for first and second, and theater tickets to the six next best. The city had six downtown movie houses in 1916, and each donated tickets for all of the occupants of each of the winning vehicles.

The great day came and surpassed all expectations.

"More than one mile of patriotism and wheels greeted the throngs that lined Boise's streets Wednesday evening to witness the Flag Day parade, with color scheme of red, white, and blue" the Statesman reported.

More than 300 decorated cars, the city band playing patriotic airs, Civil War veterans, Sons of the Revolution, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic and other organizations followed on foot.

One of the prize-winning cars was decorated with a banner that read "Preparedness," certainly a theme on every American's mind that June 1916.

We declared war on Germany April 6, 1917, and the flag would be displayed every day thereafter, not just on its birthday.