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The Iowa State Flag

George Earlie Shankle, Ph.D. explains the origin of the the Iowa State flag, in his 1938 revised edition of State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols this way:

When the United States entered the World War, Iowa had no state flag. "It was expected that the Iowa men would fight in State regiments as they had in former wars and this emphasized the desirability of a State flag to designate the Iowa units. The organization most interested in this matter was the Iowa Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution which had already prepared two designs. On May 11, 1917, Mrs. Lue B. Prentiss, chairman of the Society's flag committee, Mrs. Dixie Gephardt, and a number of other interested persons appeared before the State Council on National Defense, presented a flag design submitted by Mrs. Gebhardt, and asked that it be adopted as the State flag for use by the Iowa soldiers. The Council approved the plan without much discussion. Thereupon the Daughters of the American Revolution had a number of flags manufactured and presented one to each of the Iowa National Guard regiments, one of which — as the 168th United States Infantry — was already in France. The use of state flags however, was soon rendered almost impossible by the policy adopted by the War Department of assigning men to military units without regard to the State from which they came." 1

Iowa was admitted as a State of the Union on December 28, 1846.

A few years later, after graduating from the Geneva Medical College of New York, Dr. Norman R. Cornell made his way to Marion County, Iowa. When the Twenty-third Iowa Infantry was organized for service in the Civil War, Doctor Cornell was appointed an assistant surgeon. A few months later, he was appointed surgeon of the Fortieth Iowa Infantry. During the last year of his service he served as a brigade surgeon. When the Civil War ended, Dr. Cornell returned to Iowa to continue in general practice. He also became a specialist in diseases of the eye and the ear.

Dixie Cornell Gebhardt
Dixie Cornell Gebhardt
Courtesy: U.S. Library of Congress

A daughter, Dixie, was born to Dr. Cornell on November 16, 1866 in Knoxville, Iowa.

In June 1900, at the age of 33, Dixie married George Tullis Gebhardt also of Knoxville.

The Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurrection (1898-1901) passed and the Great War (World War I) began in Europe (1914).

Dixie Cornell Gebhardt had become a member of the Abigail Adams Chapter of the Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) of Des Moines and served as State Recording Secretary from 1913 to 1916. In 1917, serving as the State Organizing Regent, she helped organize the Mary Marion Chapter of the D.A.R. in Knoxville.

Meanwhile, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson mobilized the National Guard to preserve order along the Mexican border and, if possible, capture Pancho Villa, who had been raiding inside of U.S. territory.

In 1917, the United States was drawn into World War I.

Iowa was never in a hurry to adopt a state flag as Iowans felt, after the Civil war, that the stars and stripes appropriately represented all of the United States. And so it was not until 1921, almost seventy-five years after the admission of Iowa into the Union, that a state flag was finally adopted by the Legislature.

Like many State flags, the Iowa flag began life as a regimental banner for State National Guardsman.

The impetus for adoption of the banner originated with Iowa National Guardsmen stationed along the Mexican border during World War I. The Guardsmen saw that units from other states carried identifying banners and the Iowans felt that they should possess a unique banner of to identify their origins. When Governor William L. Harding was made aware of this, he ordered that a banner be sent immediately to the Guardsmen, but soon found that Iowa did not have a State banner.

The Iowa Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) and its flag committee, headed by Mrs. Lue Prentiss of Knoxville, came to the rescue.

A design contest of sorts was held by the D.A.R. flag committee and in May, 1917 several design proposals, including at least two by members of the D.A.R., were offered to Governor William L. Harding and the State Council on National Defense by Mrs. Dixie Cornell Gebhardt, Organizing Regent of the Mary Marion Chapter D.A.R. in Knoxville, Mrs. Lue Prentiss, and others.

New Iowa Regimental Flag
Courtesy: United States Library of Congress

The flag design selected by Governor Harding and the State Council on Defense on May 11, 1917, was a design by Mrs. Gebhardt.

Mrs. Gebhardt wrote that "Iowa's banner should embrace the history of its domain from the time of its occupation by the Indians to discovery by the French and purchase from Napoleon by Jefferson, to its admission into the Union, down to the present time. All this should be represented in a design so simple that school children and adults can recognize its symbolism and know that it meant Iowa."2 The colors offered other significance as well. White was chosen to symbolize the unwritten page of history at the state's beginning, when the first Native Americans lived on Iowa's prairies and represents purity. Blue represents loyalty, justice, and truth and red stands for courage.

An eagle is displayed on the white center stripe of the flag. The eagle carries in its beak blue streamers with the state motto, "Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain", inscribed on it in white letters. The State name "IOWA" is printed in red letters below the eagle. "Mothers feel that "Iowa" in the color of blood is a symbol of sacrifice our boys may make for us."2

After the selection was made, another committee was organized to prepare flags to present to each outgoing regiment of Iowa as well as those already in the field. The D.A.R. provided the funding for eight of these flags. One was sent to the "old Third Iowa, somewhere in France. Seven were presented by Governor Harding to the Iowa Units at Camp Cody."2

Early flags were manufactured by Annin and Company of New York City. Ten percent of every sale was donated to the American Red Cross for war relief purposes.

The Iowa Regimental Flag was adopted by the Iowa General Assembly as the State flag on March 29, 1921.

Iowa state flag

Iowa's Centennial was marked in 1946. On December 28 of that year, a three-cent stamp depicting the Iowa State Flag was issued, along with a first-day commemorative envelope with a picture of Gebhardt holding the original flag. The flag was also incorporated as part of the design for the Iowa State Centennial Seal.

The 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Iowa State flag was celebrated on March 29, 1996. A monument to honor the flag and Dixie Cornell Gebhardt was erected at 217 South Second Street in Knoxville. It was determined by the Iowa Sesquicentennial Commission that the site was the home of Gebhardt when she designed the State flag.

Gebhardt died on October 16, 1955, in Knoxville, and is interred at Graceland Cemetery.

The original flag design, in crayon, is on display in the Marion County courthouse.

The city of Knoxville, County Seat of Marion County, calls itself the "Birthplace of the Iowa Flag."

1. The Palimpsest, edited by John Ely Briggs (Published monthly at Iowa City by the state Historical Society of Iowa) October, 1924, vol. 5, p. 396-7.

2. New Iowa Regimental Flag, printed 1918, United States Library of Congress.

Iowa Flag Law

The following information was excerpted from The Iowa Code, Title 1, Subtitle, 1, Chapter 1B.

The following information was excerpted from The Iowa Code, Title 1, Subtitle, 1, Chapter 1C.

The following information was excerpted from The Iowa Code, Title 7, Subtitle 6, Chapter 280.

Source: Iowa General Assembly, Iowa Law, , July 11, 2007.
Source: Iowa General Assembly, Iowa State Symbols, , July 11, 2007.
Source: City of Knoxville, Iowa, Knoxville is Home of Iowa Flag, , April 17, 1998.
Source: An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera, Library of Congress, New Iowa Regimental Flag, Printed 1918. , July 11, 2007.
Source: Flags of the Fifty States and Their Incredible Histories: The Complete Guide to America's Most Powerful Symbols by Randy Howe. The Lyons Press; First edition edition (November 1, 2002).
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer. Greenwood Press; 3 Sub edition (October 30, 2001).
Source: State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols by George Earlie Shankle. Reprint Services Corp; Revised edition (June 1971).

Additional Information

Iowa (U.S.): FOTW "Flags of the World" Web Site.

State Flags: Complete list of state flags with links to large pictures and images suitable for coloring.

Flag Terminology: The parts of a flag and terms associated with its design.

Visit Our Flag Shop: Purchase all kinds of flags and banners, lapel pins, 50 state flag sets, decals, patches, college banners at the Flag Shop.

Flags of the Fifty States and their Incredible Histories: A complete guide to America's most powerful symbols by Randy Howe.

How Proudly They Wave: Flags of the Fifty States: This book, by Rita D. Haban, is geared toward younger readers.



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