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This bag was sewn by teacher Mary Fackler to store the flag she was given while teaching in Redlands. It read “Gen. Lawton Flag for the University of Redlands” to honor Henry Lawton, who gave her the garrison flag. (Photo by Joe Blackstock)

At the end of each school day in the mid-1890s, Redlands teacher Mary Fackler would determine whether students had behaved and done their homework properly.

If everything went well, one student was chosen to hold a small American flag while the rest of the class was rewarded with saying the following words:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic it stands for: one indivisible nation, with liberty and justice for all.”

No, the children were not wrong in their recitation—this was the original wording of the Pledge of Allegiance over 125 years ago. Nor did they have any idea that they were among the first students in America to regularly recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom.

“The children understood that they must value the value of time in order to be good citizens, and they appreciated the privilege of saluting the flag,” Fackler told the Redlands Daily Facts on April 21, 1930.

Trisha Aurelio, archivist at the University of Redlands, looks at a flag in the university's collection. It was originally given to local teacher Mary Fackler in 1895 as a reminder that her classes regularly saluted the flag, making them one of the first in the Americas to do so. (Photo by Joe Blackstock)
Trisha Aurelio, archivist at the University of Redlands, looks at a flag in the university’s collection. It was originally given to local teacher Mary Fackler in 1895 as a reminder that her classes regularly saluted the flag, making them one of the first in the Americas to do so. (Photo by Joe Blackstock)

Before the turn of the century, the flag salute was not a common practice at schools or other public events. In fact, many schools and public buildings did not even have national flags, according to “To The Flag,” a 2005 book by Richard J. Ellis about the history of the pledge.

But what prompted Fackler to hold these regular gun salutes at Kingsbury School was the events of Columbus Day 1892, when the nation celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage.

There was a great deal of patriotic fervour at the time, and there was, for example, a campaign to see more national flags in public places. One of the most vocal supporters of this campaign was the youth magazine ‘Youth’s Companion’, which also sold the flags by mail.

The Boston-based magazine called for participation in the Columbus anniversary – the National Columbian Public Schools Celebration – and distributed a series of patriotic activities for schools to conduct, including tributes to the flag.

Part of the ceremony was a pledge of allegiance, written by magazine staffer Francis Bellamy. In his discussions with magazine staff, Bellamy said he wanted to write a pledge that “must not only be an expression of loyalty to the nation, but express the reason for the loyalty,” Ellis wrote.

There are few details about the large participation of local schools in the Columbia celebrations in 1892, but the wording of Bellamy’s pledge evidently inspired Fackler, whose class then began to regularly salute the flag.

Few, if any, have repeated the process that began in Redlands and is now common practice across the country. After the turn of the century, four eastern states mandated regular patriotic events in schools but largely left it up to teachers to decide how and when to do so, Ellis wrote.

And perhaps no one would remember the daily pledge given at Kingsbury School if it had not caught the attention of some rather prominent people.

Fackler had three children in her class, Henry and Mary Lawton. Henry Lawton was a prominent military officer who also owned a ranch in Redlands. Lawton, who would soon go to fight in the Spanish-American War and later become a general, was obviously very impressed with what the students accomplished every day.

At a meeting on October 19, 1895, the Daily Facts reported that Manly, the Lawtons’ son, presented a flag donated by his father to the school’s second class.

This flag was not easy to handle – it was a fairly heavy, 10- to 12-foot garrison flag that probably once flew from a flagpole at a military base that Lawton regularly visited for inspections. The huge 44-star flag had probably been retired that year because Utah had been recognized as the 45th state of the U.S. and an additional star had to be added.

A photo of Redlands teacher Mary Fackler around 1900. (Photo archive AK Smiley Public Library)
A photo of Redlands teacher Mary Fackler around 1900. (Photo archive AK Smiley Public Library)

We don’t know how or if Fackler was able to hang such a large flag in her classroom. Perhaps it was hanging from a rafter or a wall.

During a visit to the Lawtons, General Joseph C. Breckenridge also came with Mary Lawton to Fackler’s classroom to watch the children of Kingsbury pledge their allegiance.

Breckenridge was so impressed that he later went to Washington and spoke at a gathering of the Sons and Daughters of the Revolution. He organized a pledge of allegiance like the one at Redlands, according to a letter from Mary Lawton to Fackler in 1897.

“He had the children perform the salute, which was beautiful and impressive and received much praise, enthusiasm and applause. It was mentioned that it came from the California children,” the letter said. “I thought you would like to know, since you owe it all.”

Given the number of schools and districts across the country, it is difficult to truly determine when or if Fackler’s teaching influenced how the pledge is practiced elsewhere today. Ellis makes no mention of the early pledge activities of the Redlands classes in his book.

In the meantime, some of the wording of the pledge itself and even the way it is greeted have been changed.

100 years ago last month, a conference of patriotic and other groups met in Washington and agreed to changes to Bellamy’s original wording of the pledge, first replacing “my flag” with “the flag of the United States” and later adding “of America.” Seventy years ago next month, President Dwight Eisenhower approved a congressional resolution adding “under God” to the official wording.

And placing the hand over the heart was not always the usual method. In some cases, says Ellis, the right arm was raised in the air with the palm facing upwards during the salute. Later, the similarity to the so-called Nazi salute led to the salute being held over the heart in our more common style today.

It is interesting to note that it was not until 1961 that the Redlands school board required all students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as reported in the Daily Facts on November 11, 1961. Prior to that, only elementary school students repeated the Pledge of Allegiance daily.

Fackler retired in 1921 but remained active in the community, often serving on local election committees. She died on June 30, 1945, at the age of 83.