Wisconsin Wins This One

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If you’re so inclined to take a stroll through Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo and you happen to find yourself by Mirror Lake, look around at the tombstones. If you’re lucky (it ought to be easy to find, it’s the only one IMG_8669with the huge flagpole), you’ll find one that reads:

Sara M. Hinson
Dedicated Teacher
Who with Others
Gave Us Flag Day
1841 – 1926

On February 25, 1841, George Hinson’s wife gave birth to a baby girl. The parents named her Sara. Sara Hinson would go through the Buffalo School System before being sent to finishing school. Upon completion of her education, she began teaching at Buffalo PS 13 before being moved to School #4. In 1864, as the Civil War was ending, Hinson was 23 and she transferred to School #31, where she taught the fourth grade for thirty years before spending the next twenty as principal.

Hinson is credited with being one of the first to advocate the celebration of Flag Day. Although most sources imply she independently determined to celebrate Flag Day on June 14th – the day the Continental Congress formally accepted Betsy Ross’ design in 1777 – there are plenty of sources citing other teachers as picking the same date on or around the same year. Most websites – and I wasn’t able to locate an original source – claim she taught children how to salute the Flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance at her first Flag Day in 1891. This can’t be true since (or at least the date is wrong), as we learned in the previous chapter, the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t written and published until the late summer of 1892.

Based on a Chicago Tribune article, Bernard J. Cigrand is most often cited as being known as the “Father of Flag Day.”1 It’s said he held his first “unofficial” observance when he was a school teacher in Waubeka, Wisconsin in 1885. (What is it about Wisconsin nosing in on our claims!)

How credible are these claims? Consider this: Cigrand was a prolific writer and did found the National Flag Day Organization, through which he “relentlessly campaigned and lectured all over the country to have Flag Day made a national holiday.”2 But as far back as 1885? All we can see is an unsubstantiated account that he assigned his eighth grade class an essay assignment to write about the flag.3

I’m not saying our claims are any more solid, but Cigrand might be Murray to Hinson’s Welles. We’ll never know for sure. (If you don’t know about Murray and Welles, read about them in “A Civil War Memorial.”

What we do know is, on June 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson agreed to set aside June 14th as a day of “national observance of Flag Day.” It didn’t become a “national holiday” until 1949, when President Harry Truman signed legislation declaring it so.

It’s likely both Hinson and Cigrand, as well as numerous other teachers around the nation, heard of Francis Bellamy’s ideas for promoting the Flag in schools and joined the effort. The coincidence of the timing of Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance and the Flag Day promotion is just too remarkable to believe.

Being the charitable kind of guy that I am, and since I’ve already established the chronological primacy of our invention of the hamburger, I’d be apt to give Wisconsin Flag Day, with all due respect to Sara Hinson (her tombstone does, after all, admit she gave us Flag Day “with others”). Hopefully, Wisconsin doesn’t have a beef with this.

Still, we’ll grant Hinson as much for her patriotic efforts. I’d say it’s in the water, but our next hidden gem proves he didn’t need to drink our water to make a difference. What does it say that, once he gave up everything to save America, he came to Greater Western New York to live the rest of his years?

1 “History of Flag Day,” United States Flag Store website, http://www.united-states-flag.com/flag-day-history.html  |
2 Hillinger, Charles, “Stamp Slight Still Miffs Villagers: Flag Day Is Biggest Day at Holiday’s Birthplace,” Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1987, http://articles.latimes.com/1987-06-15/news/mn-4222_1_waubeka  |
3 Ibid.

If you like this story, you’ll love Chris Carosa’s book 50 Hidden Gems of Greater Western New York. Be sure to check out the book trailer on 50HiddenGems.com and sign up for the GreaterWesternNewYork.com newsletter so you can be the first on your street to find out about the next exciting way to help promote your favorite region in America!


  1. […] You might not know the name Sara Hinson, but you should. Why? Because she helped create a patriotic tradition that endures more than a century later. But, was she the first to create this tradition? History is cloudy on this one, as it wasn’t until more than two centuries after she began leading her students in this celebration that the President finally recognized it. What is this annual ritual? Who offers competing claims? Where do they come from? Find the answers to these and many more questions in the article “Wisconsin Wins This One.” […]

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