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Meet Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand, "Father of Flag Day"

Jun 02, 2016 11:30AM ● Published by Neighbors Magazines

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In 1885, nineteen-year-old Bernard J Cigrand was a new teacher at Stony Hill School in Waubeka, WI. His students at the rural one room schoolhouse were children of immigrants, from a variety of countries, who knew very little about their new homeland. Cigrand understood their plight. His family emigrated from Luxembourg in 1852.

A student of American history, Cigrand taught his class about America. He gave them a sense of national identity and a symbol to believe in. It was a small, 10-inch American Flag, emblazoned with 38 stars, which sat on the corner of his desk for his students to see every day. He told his class of the flag’s illustrious history. He assigned them the task of writing essays, answering the question, “What the American Flag Means to Me.”

Cigrand celebrated the flag’s “birthday” on June 14, which was the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of the stars and stripes by the Congress. In 1886, he wrote an article titled “The Fourteenth of June,” that appeared in the Argus, a Chicago newspaper. In the article, he proposed that June 14 be celebrated annually, honoring the birth of the flag. That same year, he used the savings from his $40 a month salary from Stony Hill School to enter Lake Forest College of Dentistry, graduating first in his class in 1888.

Even though he had a new career, he remained passionate about creating a national Flag Day. He wrote magazine and newspaper articles and gave lectures promoting Flag Day. Soon schools across the country embraced the idea of Flag Day. Patriotic groups like the Sons of the Revolution and the Sons of America also followed Cigrand’s lead. The Sons of America published a magazine called the American Standard and made Cigrand the editor-in-chief.

In Illinois, the first meeting of the American Flag Day Association, organized by Bernard Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn, a civil war veteran, was held at the Grand Pacific Hotel. Cigrand was named secretary of the organization and became president in 1896.

Under the auspices of the American Flag Day Association, the first general public school celebration in Illinois was celebrated in five Chicago parks on June 14, 1894 with over 100,000 children participating. Two years later, the numbers soared to over 300,000.

Cigrand continued to write articles about the American flag for the Encyclopedia Americana. He also authored a 550-page volume on the History of American Emblems and an illustrated work, The Story of the American Flag.

In 1912, Dr. Bernard Cigrand moved to Batavia and opened a dental practice in his home on S. Batavia Ave. He continued to petition for a National Flag Day observance.

On June 14 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for a nation-wide observance of Flag Day. At the age of 50, Dr. Cigrand considered this his greatest achievement, even though he had written a number of books, had a successful dental practice, taught dentistry at both Northwestern and Illinois Universities and served as the dean of University of Illinois’ School of Dentistry. He had worked as an investigative journalist contributing to both the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. He also was considered an expert on heraldry and seals.

Dr. Cigrand passed away in 1932. Seventeen years after his death on August 3, 1949, President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day.

Because of his passionate effort to give the American Flag the honor it deserves, Bernard J. Cigrand is considered by many to be the “Father of Flag Day.”

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