At Last! DC Finally Gets Its Own Flag

D.C. Commissioner, Melvin Hazen, who chose the design, is pictured with the new flag October 17th, 1938 (Library of Congress)

D.C. Commissioner, Melvin Hazen, who chose the design, is pictured with the new flag October 17th, 1938 (Library of Congress)

You probably didn’t know this, but Washington did not have an official flag until the middle of the 20th century. Many locals really wanted the flag in addition to self-government and a vote (no taxation without representation!). Below is a letter to the editor in January 1938.

To the Editor of The Post.–Sir: Rather tardily, perhaps, I am prompted to take good-natured issue with your editorial of December 29 on “Flag of The Free.” It was really very amusing as it was intended to be, though at the same time sarcastic and cynical! Not that I attach blame on that score either, for certainly the District of Columbia has been and is badly treated in the matter of government. It is an intolerable situation here which surely will be remedied in the not-too-distant future.

Sarcastic publicity is better than none at all, but I hope to alter your view of the situation slightly!

The District should have self-government, should be enfranchised, and some have resented the idea of having a flag before getting a vote. In this connection we recall the fact that George Washington did not think it was necessary to wait until after the battle of Yorktown before adopting the Stars and Stripes as our national banner.

In a way, George Washington was also responsible for the only distinctive banner with which the District is ever credited. This is the George Washington hatchet flag of the old District militia and it has never had official recognition as a State flag. In this day the hatchet has such sinister meaning that the design would not be popular. The present District militia is using a more appropriate emblem authorized by the War Department, but which has no official recognition either.

I surely do not need to present to you arguments as to why the District should have a banner, The propriety of the District’s having a flag cannot be questioned, but should have the consideration of the best authorities on design, The District alone in the United States and its dependences and between 30 and 40 large cities, is without a distinguishing banner.

We especially urge that all those civic-minded citizens who are laboring so hard to secure the vote for the District, join forces with us to insure the passage of this bill as an opening wedge for recognition of the District.

MADALIN DINGLEL LEETCH.
Chairman, Correct Use of the Flag Committee, D. C. Daughters of the American Revolution
Chevy Chase, Md., Jan. 17.

Well, we have a flag and we have a mayor and city council (all too often at the mercy of Congress). Still waiting on the vote though.

And, I wonder if she lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland or just wrote the letter from there.

Later that year, on October 15th, 1938, Washington celebrated the acceptance of our new city flag. Below were the specifications adopted, based on a design submitted by Charles Dunn in 1921 (excerpt from Wikipedia). The photo above is of the District Commissioner, Melvin Hazen, holding up the flag several days later.

The proportions of the design are prescribed in terms of the hoist, or vertical height, of the flag as follows: the upper white portion shall be 3/10 of the hoist; the two horizontal bars are each 2/10 of the hoist; the white area between the bars 1/10 of the hoist; and the base, or lowest white space, is 2/10 of the hoist. The three five-pointed stars have a diameter of 2/10 of the hoist and are spaced equidistant in the fly, or horizontal, dimension of the flag.

Also, interestingly enough, the first public school in the District to receive a flag was the Ben Murch school as reported by the Washington Post on November 16th, 1938. That’s a cool point of pride for the school.

The first presentation of a District flag to a public school was made at the Ben W. Murch school yesterday by the Forest Hills Citizens Association.

Miss Claire Exley, a student of the school and granddaughter of Maj. C. M. Exley, U. S. A., a member of the association, was the flag bearer.

Guest of honor was Col. David McCoach, jr., District Engineer Commissioner. He and Mrs. Wilbur LaRoe, jr., spoke.

The flag was accepted by Mrs. Helen Gantley of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

You may not know this (I didn’t), but Washington was voted by NAVA (North American Vexillological Association) as having the best flag of any city in America. I love that. Pocatello, Idaho was the worst.

15th century Coat of Arms of Washington Family in Selby Abbey, Selby, UK (Wikipedia)

15th century Coat of Arms of Washington Family in Selby Abbey, Selby, UK (Wikipedia)

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  • http://[email protected] Richard C. Brown

    why three stars? anybody?

    • http://www.ghostsofdc.org Ghosts of DC

      That’s the number of people being investigated on the DC City Council.

    • Tom J. Cassidy

      Funny how the article doesn’t mention this, given how it took the stained-glass window photo from this link, but the whole design itself is the Washington Family Coat of Arms.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_George_Washington