Flag Day, Past and Present

Today’s post is by Rod Ross, a former archivist in the Center for Legislative Archives, who retired in April with 41 years of government service.  His interest in this holiday began at birth–on Flag Day during World War II!  Shortly after the war his family moved to Batavia, Illinois, where the Father of Flag Day, Bernard Cigrand (1866-1932), spent the final decade of his life.

The day of the centennial has come:  the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation formally recognizing June 14 as Flag Day. The designation is based on the June 14, 1777, resolution of the Second Continental Congress declaring that the flag of the thirteen United States would be thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, with “the union” to be made up of thirteen stars “white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”


Flag petition 1861.JPG

Petition from the Union Fire Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in Support of the Crittenden Compromise, ca. 1861 (National Archives 306495)

Petition from the Union Fire Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in Support of the Crittenden Compromise

With the approach of World War I, different groups and organizations came up with various ways to stimulate patriotism, including shows of reverence towards the flag.  Among them was a man generally recognized as the Father of Flag Day: Bernard J. Cigrand, a Wisconsin grade-school teacher turned dentist.

The high point of Cigrand’s campaign came with Wilson’s Flag Day proclamation that began:  “Many circumstances have recently conspired to turn our thoughts to a critical examination of the conditions of our national life, of the influences which have seemed to threaten to divide us in interest and sympathy, of forces within and forces without that seemed likely to draw us away from the happy traditions of united purpose and action of which we have been so proud.”

Accordingly, President Wilson urged that for 1916, and the years to come, the nation observe June 14 as Flag Day, a day for “special patriotic exercises . . .”

Thirty years later in 1949, in another time of international strife, President Harry Truman signed a joint resolution of Congress designating June 14 of each year as Flag Day.


In 1984 a protester outside the Republican National Convention in Dallas burned an American flag.  He was arrested.  In the aftermath, in 1989, by a five to four decision, the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson held that flag burning was a form of symbolic speech (“Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable”) and thus was protected by the First Amendment.

This key question, “Does flag burning equal free speech?” is addressed in our Amending America exhibit (at the National Archives through September 4, 2017).

Today the American flag continues to hold public attention.  Presumably it is not by chance that the National Gallery of Art’s current show “Three Centuries of American Prints” features a Jasper Johns flag print for the poster highlighting the exhibition.

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National Archives Celebrates Pride Month

Today’s post comes from Andrew Grafton in the National Archives History Office.


President William J. Clinton Meeting with Gay and Lesbian Leaders, 4/16/1993. (National Archives Identifier 2205830)

This June the National Archives will join Americans across the United States and abroad in celebrating National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, which honors the important contributions that LGBTQ+ Americans have made to United States history and culture.

Pride Month traces its roots to the Clinton administration. On June 2, 2000, President Bill Clinton issued a Presidential Proclamation designating the month of June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.”

In his statement, Clinton stressed that “gay and lesbian Americans have made important and lasting contributions to our Nation in every field of endeavor,” yet “too often, however, gays and lesbians face prejudice and discrimination; too many have had to hide or deny their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs or to live safely in their communities.” Continue reading

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Robert H. Bahmer: Bringing the National Archives into the Spotlight

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post is from Sarah Basilion. 

Robert H. Bahmer served as fourth Archivist of the United States, from 1965 to 1968.

Archivist Portraits

Portrait of the Fourth Archivist of the United States Robert Bahmer which hangs in the National Archives Building. (Records of the National Archives)

Originally from North Dakota, he earned his bachelor’s degree from North Dakota State Teachers College in 1928.

He later earned a master’s degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1938 and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Minnesota in 1941.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Bahmer worked as a teacher and principal in North Dakota before moving to Washington, DC, in 1934 to work for the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1936 he joined the newly formed National Archives. Bahmer became a specialist in records management and was loaned to the Navy for such work after the United States entered World War II in 1941.

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An Archivist for the Ages: Wayne C. Grover

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post is from Sarah Basilion. 

Archivist Portraits

Portrait of Third Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover which hangs in the National Archives Building. (Records of the National Archives)

President Harry S. Truman selected Wayne C. Grover as the third Archivist of the United States.

Born in Utah in 1906, Grover moved to the east coast in 1933 after completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Utah. He began his career at the National Archives in 1935 while he continued his graduate studies at American University.

In 1937 Grover was promoted to the position of archivist in the Division of War Department Archives, rising to assistant chief of the division in 1941. He subsequently worked as a technical assistant with the Office of the Coordinator of Information.

World War II broke out in 1941, and in 1943 Grover joined the Army and used his archival skills to serve his country. As a captain with the Army’s records administration program, Grover helped the Army to properly manage the vast amount of records they were creating during the war.

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Archivist Solon J. Buck: Wartime Leader

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post is from Sarah Basilion.

Archivist Portraits

Portrait of the second Archivist of the United States Solon Buck, which hangs in the National Archives Building. (1960 painting  based on a 1941 photograph; Records of the National Archives)

In 1935, Solon J. Buck was appointed Assistant Director to serve under the first Archivist of the United States, Robert D.W. Connor.

Following an education at the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University, the Wisconsin native started his career as a history professor. He taught at Indiana University, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Pittsburgh.

His extensive background in history, including a time as the superintendent of the Minnesota State Historical Society, prepared Buck well for a position at the new National Archives, and he joined the agency in 1935.

By 1941, Archivist Robert D.W. Connor was ready to retire, and the search for his replacement began. Considering Buck’s impressive work in helping Connor to establish the National Archives, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Buck as the second Archivist of the United States on September 18, 1941. Continue reading

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Our First Archivist, Robert D.W. Connor

The National Archives was created on June 19, 1934. During the month of June, the National Archives History Office is sharing stories about the former Archivists of the United States. Today’s post is from Sarah Basilion. 

Archivist Portraits

Portrait of Archivist Robert D.W. Conner which hangs in the National Archives Building, 1952. (Records of the National Archives)

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Robert D.W. Connor the first Archivist of the United States in 1934, Connor faced the challenge of laying a foundation for a new Federal agency.

A native of North Carolina, Connor attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a degree in 1899. Throughout his career, Connor dedicated himself to preserving and teaching history.

He served as a secretary for an educational campaign committee, was a member of the North Carolina Historical Commission (which later became the North Carolina State Department of Archives and History), and held positions at the North Carolina Teachers’ Assembly and the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

During his work at the North Carolina Historical Commission, Connor helped the commission to become one of the most respected state historical agencies in the country. Continue reading

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The act that gave us a National Archives

Today’s post comes from Kaitlin Errickson of the National Archives History Office. 

H.R. 6559, To provide for the construction of certain public bui

Public Buildings Act, engrossed version, May 18, 1926. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

May 25, 2016, marks the 90th anniversary of the Public Buildings Act of 1926, without which the National Archives Building would not exist as it does today.

The road to 1926 was a rough one—many papers and archives were destroyed throughout the 19th and early 20th century due to neglect, theft, and fire.

It was an uphill battle to convince Congress the important and vital role a National Archives would serve.

The Treasury Building, which long held historical records of the Treasury Department, had endured multiple fires.

The first Treasury fire occurred on January 20, 1801. It started in a room on the first floor and scorched the second floor, leaving the structural skeleton intact but the documents in ashes. After the fire, officials added a fireproof extension, known as the Latrobe Wing, to store the surviving documents. Continue reading

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Featured Document: Harvey Milk

Today’s post comes from Sarah Basilion in the National Archives History Office.


Harvey Milk at Mayor George Moscone’s desk, March 7, 1978. (Photo by Daniel Nicoletta)

A letter from San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk to President Jimmy Carter is on display in the National Archives’ East Rotunda Gallery until June 29, 2016.

In the June 1978 letter, Milk asks President Carter for his support in defeating ballot Proposition 6, which would have banned gay and lesbian individuals from working in the California public school systems.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He used his platform as supervisor to promote LGBTQ rights, and other public initiatives such as free public transportation, increased access to affordable child care, and a police oversight committee.

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Public Service Recognition Week

This week the National Archives is celebrating Public Service Recognition Week. Today’s post comes from Hailey Philbin in the National Archives History Office. 

President Obama's Proclamation regarding Public Service Recognition Week, May 1, 2015.

President Obama’s Proclamation regarding Public Service Recognition Week, May 1, 2015.

Since 1985, the first full week in May has been set aside to celebrate and thank the men and women who work in local, state, or Federal governments.

Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) honors the individuals who work to better serve public organizations and the communities in which they live.

This year the week is celebrated between May 1 and May 7.

In May 2015 President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation thanking 2 million civilian workers and 1 million active duty service members for their loyal service to the nation.

He added that he hoped celebrations and events during Public Service Recognition Week would continue to allow employees to feel valued, engaged, and included in their work environment.

During this special week in May, government agencies celebrate their employees across the nation with many initiatives, awards, and social gatherings. Continue reading

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Regrets, he had a few . . .

This post comes to us from Miriam Kleiman, Program Director for Public Affairs. 

After 20 years at the National Archives (first as a researcher, then employee), I’m still delighted to discover new (to me) archival treasures. Not so long ago, a reporter asked me if the Archives had any Frank Sinatra–related records to mark the centennial of his birth in December 2015.

I began a search and discovered the fascinating story of his ill-fated 1974 Australian concert tour.

To put it mildly, things did not go his way—according to diplomatic cables titled “Frank Sinatra Brouhaha” and “the Frank Sinatra affair,” which were declassified in 2005. This was a different kind of affair for Sinatra—he excited not another bombshell, but the powerful leader of the Australian trade unions.


President Nixon, Pat Nixon, President and Mrs. Giulio Andreotti of Italy pose after Frank Sinatra’s East Room performance at the State Dinner honoring President Andreotti. April 17, 1973. (Richard Nixon Library)

He got under their skin . . .

The 58-year-old crooner arrived in Melbourne via private jet on July 9, 1974.  Following a decade of weak record sales, even weaker movies and a short-lived retirement, Sinatra’s “Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back” comeback tour included five concerts in Australia—two in Melbourne and three in Sydney.

Reporters swarmed him upon arrival, but he refused to grant interviews. Lacking new material, the press instead wrote of his alleged mafia ties and ran photos of his many female companions captioned “Sinatra’s molls.”

Following his opening number at the Melbourne concert that evening, Sinatra (on stage) expressed frustration with the Australian press:

They keep chasing after us. We have to run all day long. They’re parasites who take everything and give nothing. And as for the broads who work for the press, they’re the hookers of the press. I might offer them a buck and a half. I’m not sure.

Objecting to such characterizations, the Australian Journalists’ Union demanded an apology the next morning, July 10. Sinatra refused.

Robert Hawke, head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (and a future Prime Minister of Australia) seized the opportunity and intensified the brouhaha by mobilizing other unions. Theatrical unions cancelled Sinatra’s second Melbourne concert.  Transport Workers Union members refused to refuel Sinatra’s private jet.  Hotel union members would not serve the Sinatra party or handle their luggage.

Reporters circled the unhappy singer as he left his Melbourne hotel for the airport, and “some roughhouse between security men protecting Sinatra and press” resulted in injuries, further heightening tensions and anti-Sinatra backlash.  The group then flew via commercial plane to Sydney, allegedly under assumed names.

Can’t refuel, can’t fly away . . .

Sinatra arrived in Sydney to learn that the theatrical unions had canceled his three Sydney concerts. And he was trapped—he could fly neither private nor commercial: the Transport Workers Union “refused fuel to any commercial aircraft which might carry Sinatra.”

Union head Hawke raised the stakes further, threatening: “If you don’t apologize your stay in this country could be indefinite. You won’t be allowed to leave Australia unless you can walk on water.”

U.S. diplomats were on standby.  “Anticipating the possibility” that Sinatra might need assistance, the U.S. Consul General in Sydney, Norman Hannah, called Australian Labor Party leader John Ducker July 12 and “distinguished between and ordinary labor action and a threat to impede Mr. Sinatra’s freedom of movement, including holding him hostage in Australia” [emphasis added].

Hannah cited the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees “the right of everyone to leave any country.” He cabled DC: “Ducker took the point. . . . We both agreed the matter should be resolved amicably through negotiations.”

Hours later, Sinatra’s attorney Milton Rudin asked to meet with Hannah at Sinatra’s hotel at 4 p.m. “to discuss the situation.” Rudin claimed the press had “grievously distorted and exaggerated” Sinatra’s remarks (despite the fact that the concert was recorded). Rudin was “particularly worried about the threat to prevent Sinatra from departing and I assured him that were this threat carried out, this would be a matter of great concern to us.”

After the Rudin-Hannah meeting, Ducker, Rudin, and Hawke met for nearly four hours, “during part of which they were joined by 15 repeat 15 independent Union representatives (and consumed considerable quantities of Rudin’s cigars and Chivas Regal)” Hannah reported [emphasis added]. It was almost midnight before a compromise was reached. Sinatra refused to apologize but agreed to sign a statement that he “did not intend any general reflection upon the moral character of working members of the Australian media”and  regretted both “any physical injury resulting from attempts to ensure his safety” and the inconvenience to patrons.

Let me try again . . .

His last Sydney concert was rescheduled. He was more reserved on stage this time, noting only: “What a bunch of coconuts we’ve had this week!”

Hannah relayed “all’s well that ends well” update July 16—stating that he had seen Rudin at that concert, and “he expressed gratification with the resolution of last week’s confrontation.” Another U.S. diplomat in Australia cabled the State Department praising Hannah’s “effective discreet initiative . . . to help promote satisfactory resolution of the Frank Sinatra affair.”

Sinatra and his entourage then did fly away.

“A funny thing happened in Australia,” he later told an audience in New York. “I made a mistake and got off the plane.”

Surprisingly, Old Blue Eyes returned to Australia to perform in 1988, 1989, and 1991.

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