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Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Sisterhood of Mail Order Brides

Please excuse the re-run, but this was first posted years ago on Sweethearts of the West.
At the time, either I didn't know many of you, or maybe you've forgotten about the 1951 movie Westward the Women. I've watched it numerous times over the years, and would probably watch it again if TCM featured it. While it might be a little hokey and simplistic compared to today's movies, this one was a real groundbreaker.

The idea for Westward the Women came from Frank Capra, who in the 1940s read a magazine article about South American women crossing the Isthmus to become brides for a colony of male settlers. What if he moved this event to the American West, the director wondered. Capra had always wanted to make a western, but Columbia wasn't making them at the time and so he put the idea aside.
Then one day he and a friend took the idea to MGM. The company gave it the green light. Venerable MGM leading man Robert Taylor was cast as the scout. He escorts a wagon train of 150 women from Chicago to John McIntire's ranch in California, where there are no women for the male workers in a valley McIntire wants populated with familes. Along the way, the women must fend off Indian attacks, rough weather, forbidding landscapes, and men hired to accompany the group who are unable to control their lust.
Before production started on Westward the Women, all the actresses were gathered together to learn what they were getting themselves into—much like Taylor does in the movie. They were told there would be no room for prima donnas, for the 11-week schedule in the Utah Mountains and California desert would prove to be long, dirty, and tiring. He offered everyone a last chance to back out, but no one did.
The women began a three-week period of basic training which involved calisthenics, rope skipping, softball, bullwhip cracking, horseback riding, mule team handling, firing frontier firearms, blacksmithing, and assembling (and disassembling) covered wagons.

While "feminizing" the male western was nothing new, Westward the Women went a step deeper than most, one of the few films to present a positive, overt Sisterhood.

It is almost a casebook study of traditional attitudes toward women to be refuted. In other words, while the female characters may be spoken to or treated derisively, the audience sees them in a positive light, and even heroically.

For instance, there are images of the women growing comfortable facing tough tasks, working together to fix a wagon and fight off Indians. Their bravery could not be clearer, as the audience sees dramatic images of individual women against an open and stark landscape and sky—a deliberate filming technique.

When a woman's version of a male genre is created, the woman's world—primarily love and romance, marriage, sex, rape, and childbirth—must be reconciled in some manner with the male movie.

By the end of this film, the women "have been told they can't cope, can't shoot, can't rope, can't ride, can't fight, and can't endure," and they have proved this to be wrong every time. These 'masculine' things are now absorbed into them.

This movie first touched me because it was a female-driven tale—that of women banding together to form a sisterhood against harsh odds.
Then it touched me even more when I began to read...and subsequently write...Mail Order Bride novels and novellas.

Have you seen this movie?
It's one I've watched several times, just as I have High Noon, Red River, The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, and Gunfight at the OK Corral--in different versions.
It might be worth your time to rent this off Netflix...or somewhere...and watch it and see what you think.
Thanks for visiting us here on the Prairie Rose Publications author blog.

And look for new releases all the time, some of which are MAIL ORDER BRIDES series.

Celia YearyRomance, and a little bit of Texas

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hiram Leavitt & the Leavitt House

Born in 1824 in Grantham, New Hampshire, Hiram L. Leavitt was lured to California while in his late twenties by the California gold rush. His wife Eliza and infant daughter stayed behind in Boston. In November 1856, he returned for them. He brought them and their belongings by way of a sea voyage back to California. The 1860 census shows him and his family including wife, Eliza, 8 year old daughter Ida and son Alfred, one year old, living in Township #1 in Tuolumne County near today’s Sonora, California. Another child was born to them about a year later.

Along Sonora Pass near where it joins with Hwy 395

About 1863 Hiram Leavitt moved his family to the eastern end of road near the Little Walker River, now known as Highway 108, or Sonora Pass, linking Sonora with Mono County. The area then known as Indian Valley was later named Leavitt Meadows in his honor. He built a hostelry as a stagecoach stop to serve the growing traffic, primarily miners, traveling between Sonora and Aurora, which at first was thought to be in Mono County, California and was the designated county seat. When it was determined that the town of Aurora was actually in Nevada, not California, Bridgeport was then designated as the county seat of Mono County.

Bridgeport was a growing town, and Leavitt moved his stage stop business, called Leavitt Station, to the center of town on what is now known as Highway 395, the road which connects Reno and Carson City, Nevada to the mining towns in California further south. He commissioned builder Sam Hopkins to construct a two story inn, the Leavitt House, to serve travelers along this major thoroughfare in the eastern Sierra Nevada region. Builder Hopkins later married Leavitt's daughter Ida.  

Part of my latest novella, Haunted by Love, takes place in the Leavitt House.

On October 20, 1869, Hiram Leavitt was elected as a judge of Mono County, California and served as such for several years.

Hiram and his wife Eliza Leavitt continued to live in the Leavitt House  until Hiram died in 1901 at age 77.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Leavitt Peak, Leavitt Meadow, Leavitt Creek and Leavitt Lake appear on California maps. The Leavitt House was later sold, but remained a popular inn for travelers. Today it is known as the Bridgeport Inn.

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. The first four novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine,  A Resurrected Heart, Her Independent Spirit, and Haunted by Love are now available.  

You may purchase Haunted by Love from the following:
Amazon  |  B & N  |  Smashwords  |  Kobo  |  iTunes

Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Release -- A KISS TO REMEMBER -- Only 99 Cents!

Are you ready for FIVE books in one of the best western historical romance boxed sets to debut this year? Prairie Rose Publications has got just the stories you’ve been craving! Get ready for some wonderful hours of pleasure-filled reading as you settle back in your easy chair and get lost in these wonderful tales of romance that you won’t be able to get enough of!

HER SANCTUARY by Tracy Garrett
Beautiful Maggie Flanaghan’s heart is broken when her father dies suddenly and the westward bound wagon train moves on without her, leaving her stranded in River’s Bend. But Reverend Kristoph Oltmann discovers the tender beginnings of love as he comforts Maggie, only to find she harbors a secret that could make their relationship impossible.

GABRIEL'S LAW by Cheryl Pierson
Brandon Gabriel is hired by the citizens of Spring Branch to hunt down the notorious Clayton Gang, never suspecting a double-cross. When Allison Taylor rides into town for supplies, she doesn't expect to be sickened by the sight of a man being beaten to death by a mob—a man she recognizes from her past. Spring Branch's upstanding citizens gather round to see a murder, but everything changes with the click of a gun—and GABRIEL’S LAW.

OUTLAW HEART by Tanya Hanson
Making a new start has never been harder! Bronx Sanderson is determined to leave his old outlaw ways behind and become a decent man. Lila Brewster is certain that her destiny lies in keeping her late husband’s dream alive—a mission house for the down-and-out of Leadville, Colorado. But dreams change when love flares between an angel and a man with an OUTLAW HEART…

THE DUMONT WAY by Kathleen Rice Adams
The biggest ranch in Texas will give her all to save her children…but only the right woman’s love can save a man’s tortured soul. This trilogy of stories about the Dumont family contains a new, never-before-published tale by Kathleen Rice Adams! Nothing will stop this powerful family from doing things THE DUMONT WAY…

YESTERDAY’S FLAME by Livia J. Washburn
When smoke jumper Annabel Lowell's duties propelled her from San Francisco 2000 back to 1906, she faces one of the worst earthquakes in history. But she also finds the passion of a lifetime in fellow fireman Cole Brady. Now she must choose between a future of certain danger—and a present of certain love—no matter how short-lived it may be... "A timeless and haunting tale of love."~ The Literary Times

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sisters of Mercy bring medical skills to California by Kaye Spencer

A few summers ago, I traveled to Sacramento, California to attend a college graduation. During the few days I was there, I worked-in a bit of historical wandering about town. One of the places I visited was the capitol building.

Sacramento, California - Capitol Building*
 Not far from the front door and just off to the left in the shade (as you're facing the front doors) is a commemorative area for the Sisters of Mercy (Catholic religious order, not the rock'n'roll band of the same name). The Sisters of Mercy was a lay order of Catholic women with its beginnings in Ireland of 1831. Eight Sisters of Mercy left Kinsale, Ireland, sailed to San Francisco, and arrived on December 8, 1854. The leader of this group was 25-year-old Mary Baptist Russell. In 1857, five Sisters traveled by steamboat to Sacramento to begin their work there.

This plaque summarizes who the Sisters were and what their mission was (transcription below image):

"During the Gold Rush Days of 1857 the Sisters of Mercy came to Sacramento to care for the children of the miners and to serve the sick and homeless.

In those early days, the Sisters of mercy purchased land in the heart of the city to build a school. Passage of the "Capitol Bill" in 1860 resulted in the sale of that property to the State for its original price of $4,850. This is now the site of the State Capitol Building.

The Sisters of Mercy have made significant contributions to the history and progress of the State of California. Their mission to care for the sick, the poor, the elderly and the uneducated continues today throughout the world."

These quotes are from this website:

"The sisters’ sacrifice “is scarcely to be underestimated..."

"They were largely middle-class women embarking on something that had been unimaginable to them even when they entered the convent, where they expected to be serving Ireland’s poor — not the poor of the world...."

"Once they arrived in San Francisco after that arduous journey, they were instantly plunged into ministering to the sick, to the homeless, to prostitutes and to children. No lofty missionaries from enlightened Europe, these women were immigrants serving immigrants, aliens in a strange land...”

Now, let’s put these women into the historical perspective of their arrival in California.
  • Driving the spike at Promontory Point, Utah, which joined the railroads from the east and west coasts, was twelve years in the future.
  • Colorado's gold rush was still two years away.
  • Travel on the Oregon Trail was in its height.
  • The first pony express rider wouldn't leave Missouri for another three years.
  • Dred Scott decision was made the year the Sisters arrived.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin was published five years before they arrived.
  • James Buchanan was president.
  This is the Sisters of Mercy statue that was dedicated by the Mercy Foundation.

Sisters of Mercy Statue, Sacramento, California*

The dedication reads:

"This sculpture commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Sisters of Mercy caring for those in need in the greater Sacramento region. Mary Baptist Russell, California Foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, is depicted here as a woman of vision, courage and compassion, blazing the trail for her companions and followers as they bring hope and healing to those in need.

The works of the Sisters of Mercy are based on the vision of their foundress, Catherine McAuley, who sought to connect the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick, and the educated to the uninstructed.

Dedicated by Mercy Foundation on September 29, 2007 - Created by artist Ruth Coelho"

Sister Catherine McAuley*

To read more about the history of the Sisters of Mercy, their origins in Ireland, and their legacy, here are but three of many websites:
Until next time,


Writing the West one romance upon a time

Images from Wikipedia Commons and Kaye's personal collection
McCauley image:
This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.{{PD-US}}

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Arizona State University

By Kristy McCaffrey

In 1886, the Arizona Territory offered a less-than-ideal educational environment. The Pleasant Valley War between competing cattle rustling gangs was in full swing and wouldn’t end until six years later in a fatal gunfight in the town of Tempe. Despite this, however, Tempe—with the burgeoning towns of Phoenix and Mesa nearby—would become home to the Arizona Territorial Normal School.

The school was opened on February 8, 1886 on a 20-acre cow pasture that belonged to George and Martha Wilson. The institution began with a four-classroom building, a well, and an outhouse to instruct the first 33 students. These young men and women arrived on horseback—some having ridden for miles from Mesa or tiny farming communities even farther away—and, in addition to their studies, would need to rent a room with a local family during their enrollment.

President Theodore Roosevelt speaking in front of Old
Main at ASU on March 20, 1911.
The Normal School was charged to provide “instruction of persons, both male and female, in the art of teaching, and in all the various branches that pertain to a good common school education; also, to give instruction in the mechanical arts and in husbandry and agricultural chemistry, in the fundamental law of the United States, and in what regards the rights and duties of citizens.”

Charles Trumbull Hayden
The idea for a school of higher education was spearheaded by two men, Charles T. Hayden and John S. Armstrong. Arizona Territory was struggling to achieve statehood but the national press loved to print stories of the lawlessness present. It was Hayden who sought to civilize the place with education and culture.

Today, Arizona State University is a sprawling multi-campus school with over 71,000 students and covers more than 1,500 acres in metro Phoenix.

The ASU mascot - Sparky the Sun Devil.
Kristy McCaffrey is an alumni of Arizona State, along with her husband, mother, father, and two uncles. Her oldest son currently attends. As a newly-married couple, Kristy and her husband named their dog Sparky, after the ASU mascot.

Connect with Kristy

Monday, July 11, 2016

"The Del"

Good day, my friends!

Since I’m off at the RWA convention in San Diego, CA, I thought I’d share a bit of my pre-convention fun—uh, research.  Today, I visited “The Del” -- Hotel del Coronado.

Built in 1888, it is one of the few surviving examples of an American Victorian beach resort. When it opened, it was the largest resort hotel in the world. “In November 1885, five investors-- E. S. Babcock, retired railroad executive,  Hampton L. Story, of the Story & Clark Piano Company of Chicago; Jacob Gruendike, president of the First National Bank of San Diego; Heber Ingle and Joseph Collett--went together to buy all of Coronado and North Island, approximately 4,000 acres, for $110,000.

The men hired architect James W. Reid, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, to create a grand hotel:  "It would be built around a court...a garden of tropical trees, shrubs and flowers,.... From the south end, the foyer should open to Glorietta Bay with verandas for rest and promenade. On the ocean corner, there should be a pavilion tower, and northward along the ocean, a colonnade, terraced in grass to the beach. The dining wing should project at an angle from the southeast corner of the court and be almost detached, to give full value to the view of the ocean, bay and city.
The Crown Room was Reid's masterpiece—and it is magnificent. The wooden ceiling was installed with pegs and glue. Not a single nail was used.

I had a wonderful day enjoying the sites and amenities of The Del.  If you’re in San Diego, I recommend you make time to see it, too.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been enthralled by mail-order brides. No, I’ve not been “studying” them, or “researching” them—yet. I’ve just been wondering why this became such a practice—and a successful one—among women of all walks of life, or so it seems.

What would make a woman leave everything familiar to her and travel to “parts unknown” to marry a man she knew nothing about? What’s scarier than online dating? Being a mail-order bride! Once they’d made the commitment to leave their homes behind—much to the consternation of many family members and friends, in some cases, I would imagine—the die was cast.

Could be these thoughts cross my mind when the weather is sooooo bloomin' hot here in Oklahoma that I can't even imagine traveling for days in a covered wagon or even on a train to get to this part of the country from "back east". Same for the winter--with the ice and snow being plentiful and hard to navigate in, much less just being frozen stiff.

Here's one of the first mail-order bride stories I wrote--FOUND HEARTS, penned for the PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS 2014 Valentine's Day anthology, HEARTS AND SPURS, and later released as a single sell story.

Southern belle Evie Fremont has lost everything—except hope. When she answers an advertisement for marriage to Alex Cameron who lives in the wilds of Indian Territory, she has few illusions that he could be a man she might fall in love with—especially as his secrets begin to unfold.

Ex-Confederate soldier Alex Cameron needs a mother for his two young half-Cherokee sons more than he needs a wife—or so he tells himself. But when his past threatens his future on his wedding day, he and Evie are both forced to acknowledge their new love has come to stay—along with their FOUND HEARTS.

A woman would have to be certain in her own mind that what she was going to was better than what she was leaving behind. She would have to be resourceful enough to plan some kind of “exit strategy” if things didn’t work out. And I suppose, many times, women resigned themselves to the fact that they would become a soiled dove—the lowest of the low—in order to survive.

Here's a wonderful collection of mail-order bride tales from Prairie Rose Publications, LASSOING A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE. Take a peek at what's inside:

A woman would have to be loco to become a mail-order bride...wouldn't she? Leaving everything behind and starting fresh in the untamed west is the answer to a prayer for these ladies! A beautiful socialite needs a husband fast —but her husband wants a bride for life. A pregnant young lady becomes desperate —almost as desperate as her soon-to-be husband, who just inherited his sister's kids. A man is in love with a woman he can’t have —or can he? A woman’s reputation is tarnished and professional career compromised —she runs, but she can't hide. Will they all find love with strangers they've never met who are set on LASSOING A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE?

A pregnant mail order bride. A groom with three orphaned children. Some dreams get a rough start

A beautiful socialite needs a husband fast —for just one month —but the rancher wants a wife for life!

He needs a wife to get custody of his grandchildren. She needs a fresh start and a new reputation. Desperate men —and women —sometimes take desperate measures...but can she be A PERMANENT WOMAN?

THE BIG UNEASY—Kathleen Rice Adams
A man in love with a woman he can’t have. A woman engaged to a man she doesn’t love. A secret in common could destroy them all.

In spite of all the scenarios we might come up with for a mail-order bride to leave the life she has known behind her for something completely foreign to her, there are, I’m sure, many that we never could have even contemplated. For each story is personal, intimate, and heart-rending in its own right.

One of the most unusual books about mail-order brides is Jim Fergus’s story, ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN—which is not about “mail-order brides” as we think of them, but in a totally different way—a trade by the U.S. Government of 1000 white women to the Indians in order to achieve assimilation into white culture. Interestingly enough, this premise WAS discussed in reality, but not carried through. In the book, however, Fergus shows how the government emptied insane asylums of women and sent them to the Indians…only most of the women were not insane, but had been “put away” by their families for one reason or another.

Would you have what it took to be a mail-order bride in the old west? I’m not sure I would, but it’s fun to think about. And for you guys--would you consider "mail-ordering" a bride? What if either of you had habits the other couldn't abide? What if you just didn't "suit" in general?

A MAIL-ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE is a collection of Christmas mail-order bride stories that Prairie Rose Publications just released with some wonderful tales of how some women with pasts they needed to leave behind find new beginnings at the most joyous time of the year. These eight stories by Livia J. Washburn, Kathleen Rice Adams, Cheryl Pierson, Patti Sherry-Crews, Jesse J Elliot, Meg Mims, Tanya Hanson, and Jacquie Rogers will provide you many hours of reading pleasure all year 'round.

So what about it, y'all? Ladies, could you BE a mail-order bride? Gents, would you consider advertising for a bride? What would be your qualifications?

Would you leave your familiar surroundings and go west to be a mail-order bride?
Thanks for stopping by today!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stage Props For Writing In A Past Time by Sarah J. McNeal

One of the most important questions I faced when writing in another time was, how do I let the readers know what time they’re in without blasting it over the intercom?

It’s not so hard when you’re writing fantasy or science fiction because you are creating a whole new world, but it sure does get tricky in a time travel or historical novel. Time travel stories give a bit of a hint that the reader is moving away from the present by introducing some noise, weird atmosphere like a vapor cloud, and a great discomfort to the time traveler. That’s good, but the traveler has to get the idea things are not what they appear to be. The writer has to bring about these changes in time in subtle ways. Diana Gabaldon did it by presenting an eighteenth century dagger into the story that the heroine realizes with some shock that it’s authentic, but new.

Even if you’re not writing a time travel, an historical time period still needs details to acquaint the reader with the proper time in history. Of course, you could always just write the date at the beginning of the chapter like December 25, 1932 Chicago. That's simple enough. But sometimes you want to use a more subtle approach.

I have to say, it wasn’t as hard to set the stage for nineteenth or early twentieth century scenes because a little research will bring up some things to use as props that will alert the reader to the right time such as kerosene lanterns, a stage coach, men wearing six shooters on their hips and so on. But how do you let your reader know your characters are in the 1950’s as opposed to the 1940’s? The best way I know is by using music from that particular time period. After that, throw in popular inventions like the radio or television and who the president of the United States was at the time will pretty much get the time across to the reader. Okay, and it’s so much fun finding out what movies and television shows were popular during that time, too. I get to reminisce for hours and call it research to find these time period giveaways.

While writing HOME FOR THE HEART, which takes place in the mid 1950’s I found Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” was a great song to identify the period. It was also a time of shirt waist dresses with big, full skirts and rolled up jeans. Women were still careful about their appearance in those days. Hats and gloves for church was absolutely required. Anyone remember sweater guards, that little piece of jewelry that held the top of a cardigan sweater together? Houses changed from big rambling Victorian ladies to sleek one story ranch houses or straight-lined houses with plenty of glass windows and, of course, swimming pools for the wealthy residents. I thought a 1940 Studebaker sedan might be helpful to note the time period, but I had to make it old and barely running.

People talked differently during different historical periods as well. “Don’t take any wooden nickels,” was an expression developed during the Great Depression. Although people still used the expression in the 1950’s, I needed newer phrases or ways of talking that hollered, “You’re in the 1950’s.” Some of you may remember the slang brought about by “Beatniks” who spouted poetry and opposition to the work ethic. Some of you may recall the term, “Daddy-O” which wasn’t necessarily your father.

Television shows popular in the period will definitely alert readers to the time period such as The 60,000 Dollar Question, Rin Tin Tin, I Love Lucy, and ” just to name a few. Movies such as “East of Eden” and “Rebel Without A Cause” with James Dean, “The Seven Year Itch” with Marilyn Monroe, and “Guys And Dolls” with Marlon Brando were popular in the 50’s as well.

All these things help to create a story that feels authentic to the time period in which I wrote for HOME FOR THE HEART

Here are a few excerpts from my new release that suggest the 1950’s:

Excerpt (using songs):

1.Love Me Tender played on the radio and reminded Hank of Lucy dancing with him to the song. The light, fragrance of roses filled his senses. Lucy’s perfume.
Reality settled back into Hank’s consciousness as they entered the emergency room.
2. "Now who wouldn’t like Blue Suede Shoes or You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog? I admit, I’m more of a country and western music fan. I like Patsy Cline and Sons of the Pioneers.” Kyle grinned.
3.  On the jukebox, “Mr. Sandman” by the Cordettes, filled the small diner with its happy plea for the man of a woman’s dreams to come to her.

Excerpts (using fashion):

1. Smoothing her hands over her lavender shirtwaist dress, Lucy took a deep breath. Hank is never going to be interested in a plain woman like me. She turned from the mirror just as she heard the knock on the front door downstairs.
Her mother called up the stairs. “Lucy, honey, Hank is here.”
2. Once they arrived at Jane Red Sky’s dress shop, Lucy followed Jane over to a rack of summer dresses Jane had just finished sewing. Lucy loved the new neckline: boat neck in the front, but surprisingly, had a dip in the back with pretty ties or bows.
3. The yellow dotted Swiss was the perfect material for the sundress Jane made for her. She loved the way it dipped into a V in the back with a bow at the bottom. The fitted waist and flared skirt made her feel festive and feminine. Jane even put lace along the bottom of the skirt and lace patch pockets on the skirt to hold her car keys, a handkerchief and some money so she could leave her purse in the trunk of her car. A little bunch of silk daisies as a corsage rested at the waist.  Her wide-brimmed straw hat had a cluster of silk daisies to match the corsage pinned to her dress.

Excerpt (using an old Automobile):

He withdrew from the window, leaned back far enough to meet her gaze from where he stood beside her old 1940 Pontiac Studebaker sedan. “Good enough then. See you tomorrow.”

Excerpt (using food and other historical props):

Kyle pulled a coca cola out of the cold water and icy depths of the drink chest and handed Hank one. The two of them took a seat in the metal and red leatherette chairs by the steel desk and talked until Jedidiah returned around an hour later.

These fashions and popular items from the 1950’s help to remind the reader just what time they’re in and give the story a feeling of authentic mid-century life.

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Thinking About the American Flag...what do you know about its history? By Gail L. Jenner

Although the 4th of July is usually part “work day” on our ranch (eg: raking or baling hay, irrigating, and/or hauling hay), the afternoon and evening is always a great time for our family. 

But after the work is done (or a portion of it!!), the fun begins: sometimes we go fishing; sometimes we get out tubes and rafts; occasionally we go up into the hills or out on a lake, but usually we end up with fireworks (which are legal here) and we usually have a BBQ or potluck. I make no less than 3 or 4 pies, including cream pies and/or rhubarb or apple or berry pies, and everyone brings their favorite dish. We traditionally make homemade ice cream and the kids love getting a chance to turn the crank (I used to love it when we had a milk cow and got fresh cream).

Still, as I was preparing food and getting the yard ready for this year’s celebration—including hanging some bunting and a few smaller flags—I began to wonder about some of the more obscure facts regarding our flag’s history. I decided I’d like to share something more than the few random facts we all “assume” to be true with our grandkids, so I sat down and scanned a couple books and the Internet. Of course I found some intriguing details.

Probably most of us assume we know some of the flag’s history; after all, didn’t Betsy Ross stitch it while suffering through the Revolutionary War? And the 13 stripes represent the original colonies. And didn’t a war-torn flag inspire the words of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key?

Well, Betsy was not the flag’s creator; the first flag was actually designed—not by Betsy Ross—but by Francis Hopkinson, a Congressman from New Jersey. Records from the Continental Congress reveal that Hopkinson clearly designed the flag. The “story” involving Betsy Ross did not emerge for another 94 years and was first told by one of her grandsons. Since there was no official flag during the first year of the United States, there were a great number of homespun flag designs, but it is generally accepted that the first flag had 13 stars arranged in a circle. And it is still referred to as the "Betsy Ross" flag!
It wasn’t until June 14, 1777 that the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act, which stated: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

So while the flag had 13 stars on a blue background, and 13 stripes made of alternating red and white panels in the beginning, in 1794, two new stars were added—making 15—because Vermont and Kentucky had joined the United States. After that, new stars were added as new states were created, and July 4 was designated the official day to add any new stars. So, while there are now 50 stars on the blue background, the number of stars and stripes has remained fixed at 13 to symbolize the original colonies.
The colors of the flag are also symbolic: white represents purity and innocence; red represents courage and valor; and blue symbolizes justice, perseverance and vigilance. In addition, the stars were chosen to symbolize heaven and the nation’s “divine” goals, while the stripes represent rays of sunshine.

Interestingly, it was President Taft who, in 1912, authorized the flag’s standardized proportions and official arrangement of stars (with six rows of eight each). Until then, flags were often homemade and lacked a consistent design.

Than, in January 1959, President Eisenhower authorized rearranging the stars into seven rows, with seven stars each; however, in August 1959, he ordered that the stars be arranged in nine rows staggered horizontally and 11 rows staggered vertically.

Most interesting—and certainly not well known—it was a student, Robert G. Heft, who designed our present-day flag as a school assignment when Hawaii and Alaska were being considered for statehood. Incredibly, his teacher remarked that Robert’s sketch “lacked creativity” and gave it only a B-, then added that if his drawing was adopted by Congress, he would receive a higher mark. Robert sent his drawing off to his Congressional representative, and it ultimately became our national flag!

As to flying the flag, here are some considerations: When displaying the American flag there should always be some source of light—either sunlight or some other kind of light. This is why flags are often lowered at night and raised in the morning. And, of course, when lowering the flag, it should never touch the ground. Also, if the flag becomes too worn and cannot be restored to its “original condition,” it should be burned “with dignity,” or properly folded and sent to either the American Legion, the Boy Scouts, or the Girl Scouts—all organizations that practice proper flag retirement etiquette.


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