School in the 1800s was a far different thing than it is today. For one thing, did you know that most schools didn’t even have an American flag flying over the schoolhouse? This began to change starting in 1888, when Daniel Sharp Ford, the owner of the patriotic circular The Youth’s Companion, began a campaign to sell United States flags to public schools. The magazine sent out 100 free cards to each student who wished to obtain a school flag, printed with these words: This Certificate entitles the holder to One Share in the patriotic influence of the School Flag. The students then sold the certificates for 10 cents each, and when they had sold all 100 of them, they would send the money to The Youth’s Companion and receive “a good-sized, substantial flag” to display at their school.
Four years later, the magazine had sold US flags to approximately 26,000 schools across the country. The market at this time was slowing, but Ford felt it was not yet saturated. Ford had already hired Christian Socialist Baptist minister and author Francis Julius Bellamy to work with Ford’s nephew, James B. Upham, in the premium department of the magazine. Upham had begun his campaign with an essay contest for students: “The Patriotic Influence of the American Flag,” with one winner chosen from each state and that winner’s school receiving a large US flag. Upham now had the idea of using the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas in 1492 to further bolster the schoolhouse flag movement.
The Youth’s Companion called for a national Columbian Public School Celebration to coincide with the World’s Columbian Exposition, scheduled for 1893 in Chicago, Illinois. Forty-six countries from all over the world were sending exhibitions to this World’s Fair. A flag salute was to be part of the official program for the Columbus Day celebration on October 12th, to be held in schools all over the United States. Francis Bellamy created a special pledge, published in the September 8, 1892 issue of the magazine.
Bellamy’s original pledge read as follows:
I pledge Allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
This pledge was immediately put to use in the magazine’s campaign. Bellamy went to speak to a national meeting of school superintendents to promote the Columbian celebration. The superintendents liked the idea and selected a committee of leading educators to implement the program, including the immediate past president of the National Education Association. Bellamy was selected as the committee chair.
With the official blessing of the American educators, Bellamy’s committee now had the task of spreading the word around the nation and of designing an official program for schools to follow on the day of national celebration. Bellamy structured the program around a flag-raising ceremony and his pledge, which was accompanied with a salute known as the Bellamy Salute. Unfortunately, this salute resembled the later Nazi salute, so during World War II, it was replaced with the now-familiar hand-over-heart gesture.
Bellamy described his thoughts as he crafted the language of the pledge:
“It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution…with the meaning of the Civil War, with the aspiration of the people…
The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the ‘republic for which it stands.’ …And what does that last thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation—the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches. And its future?
Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity.’ No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all…”
Bellamy thought of his Pledge as an “inoculation” that would protect immigrants and native-born but insufficiently patriotic Americans from the “virus” of radicalism and subversion. Whether or not this has worked, your characters could have either read The Youth’s Companion as a child, or may have perhaps participated in the Flag Day celebrations that the magazine encouraged after September 8, 1892.