Rep. Jacobs Marks Illinois Flag Adoption Day

On this day in 1915, Illinois adopted its first state flag. This flag depicted the emblem shown on the state seal on a field of white. In 1970, official design standards were set and the word “Illinois” was added to the flag. This design is still in use today.

Learn more about this history of Illinois’ flag at

The whole story is here:

Ella Louise Park Lawrence was a great patriot. Her ancestors came to America in 1639, and eight members of her family fought in the Revolutionary War. Her father, George, moved to Illinois when he was young, but eventually settled in Missouri. In the years before the Civil War he ran an abolitionist newspaper – an act of extreme courage in a sharply divided state like Missouri. As the nation split over the issue of slavery and then descended into civil war, George Park taught his children, including his three-year-old daughter Ella to love and respect the flag of the nation so many were fighting to save.

Young Ella never forgot that lesson, and as she grew up she was known to present stars-and-stripes flags to her school and her classmates. She returned to Illinois in 1874 to attend Knox College. There she met her future husband, George Lawrence, and they and their family lived in Galesburg, where they had five children, four of whom tragically died while still young.

Battle-torn flag of the 96th Illinois Infantry Regiment

When the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was founded in 1890, Ella Lawrence was excited to join the patriotic organization. She helped organize a chapter in Galesburg, named for her ancestor Rebecca Gibson Parke, who had been 11 years old and living in Lexington, Massachusetts, when the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. In 1911, she was elected a regent of the Illinois’ statewide DAR organization.

As a regent, she had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC for the DAR’s annual National Congress. Strolling through the DAR’s Memorial Continental Hall she noticed an omission that would lead to an important change in Illinois and to an emblem we now see every day.

During the Civil War, soldiers on both sides had followed flags into battle. They were an important tool for communication on the battlefield, as they represented not only the armies of each side, but the specific combat units and individual commanders. In the noise of combat, visual signals were essential: if you saw the national colors advance, you advanced with them; if you saw your regimental flag fall back, you fell back as well.

Most civil war combat units were state-based militia (with names like the 7th Illinois Infantry, etc.), and so the emblems came to symbolize not just a particular regiment, but sometimes an entire state. The banners, often homemade, would contain some kind of identifying information, like the state seal or a state coat of arms. After the war, many veterans on both sides saw the banners as important symbols of their states and a movement developed to adopt some of them as official state flags. Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Alabama and New Hampshire were among those states which had already done so by the time Ella Lawrence made her trip to Washington and observed the many state flags hanging in the Memorial Hall.

Illinois, notably, was not among them.

Inspired, Lawrence returned to Illinois and put together a design contest. She wrote to every DAR chapter in the state and offered a $25 prize for the winning design for an Illinois State Flag. She also went to work on the state legislature, urging them to set the wheels in motion for establishing an official state flag.

Designs came in from all around the state, nearly three dozen in all. To choose the winner, a panel of four judges was appointed: Secretary of State Lewis Stevenson, Supreme Court Justice Charles Craig, Superintendent of Public Instruction Francis Blair and Hugh Magill of the Illinois State Art Commission. They chose a design submitted by Lucy Derwent of the DAR’s chapter in Rockford.

The winning flag design called for the emblem shown on the state seal to be displayed on a field of white. Legislation was introduced in 1915 by Senator Raymond Meeker to formalize the selection. It passed both houses and became law on July 6, 1915, giving Illinois its first state flag. Governor Edward Dunne chose to allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Lawrence celebrated the occasion by making five “first flags” for the state. Made of silk and bounded by yellow fringe, these 3-by-5 flags featured the new design painted onto the fabric. She then presented the first five flags to the national DAR headquarters, the Illinois DAR, the Secretary of State, the Governor and the Illinois State Historical Society.

Ella Lawrence died in 1924. At her DAR memorial service, Myra Patch of the Rebecca Parke Chapter praised her as “tremendous in energy, fervent in patriotism, resourceful in plans. Mrs. Lawrence not only gave of her money, her time, her thought and her physical strength, but she also had the happy faculty of inspiring others to do likewise – by the high standard of her work as State Regent of Illinois, Mrs. Lawrence added greatly to the honor and fame of our chapter.”

The story of the Illinois State Flag she worked so hard to create does not end here, however.

Although the flag had been adopted, its reproduction was beset with inconsistencies. The color scheme differed, elements of the seal such as the sunrise were omitted from some flags. Sometimes the background color of the flag was changed for different events.

Five decades passed, and many more Illinoisans followed the nation’s flag into battle, in both world wars, Korea and then Vietnam. It was there, in 1968, that another patriotic Illinoisan had an experience similar to Ella Lawrence in that Memorial Hall at the DAR convention.

Chief Petty Officer Bruce McDaniel of Waverly, Illinois, was eating in his mess hall in South Vietnam when his eye was drawn to the decorative display of state flags. Unlike back in 1911, state flags were a commonality across the country by this time, and the flags in the mess hall represented the homes of the many Americans from every part of the country who were serving in Vietnam. But McDaniel noticed that unlike many of the other flags which were easy to identify, there was nothing on the Illinois flag which specifically marked it as the flag of the Land of Lincoln.

Determined to give his home state its proper recognition, McDaniel wrote to State Representative Jack Walker and suggested that a change to the state flag would be in order. Walker responded with legislation in 1969 which added the word “ILLINOIS” to the flag, just beneath the image from the state seal. The legislation passed the General Assembly and was signed by Governor Richard Ogilvie that September.

But the consistency of the design of the flag still remained an issue. Fifty years of different producers coming out with inconsistent versions of the flag had become enough of an affront that Ogilvie was moved to join with Secretary of State Paul Powell and appoint a commission to settle the specific, standard design for the state flag. Ogilvie received their recommendations and acted upon them the next year.

In 1970, the exact specifications for the appearance of the Illinois State Flag were set in Executive Order Number 8, issued on May 11 of that year. The flag would portray the exact image of the state seal’s emblem, with nothing added or left out. The letters spelling out ILLINOIS would be “1/12th the size of the emblem in a serif lettering comparable to Craw Clarendon Modern typeface,” and the background would always be white, while the letters were blue and would extend over 80 percent of the width of the flag.

A request for design submissions which met these exact specifications was issued, and Florence Hutchinson put forward the winning design. To ensure absolute consistency, the state flag which bears Hutchinson’s design is made up of eight specific colors from the Standard Color Card of America: Old Glory Red, No. 70180; Old Glory Blue, No. 70075; Midnight Black, No. 70090; Nickel Grey, No. 70152; Hunter Green, No. 70069; Spanish Yellow, No. 70068; Orange, No. 70069; and Brown, No. 70119.

It became the official Illinois State Flag on July 1, 1970, and remains in use today.