Friday, April 5, 2002
Treasures of Carlisle's Past:
Mrs. Berry and Old Glory
The town flag that proudly waves on the Carlisle common has been joined by many others since the events of September 11, 2001. Driving or walking through town one sees flags hanging from homes, displayed on car windows, affixed to mailboxes, decorating flower pots.
A symbol of patriotism
Many have taken to wearing red, white and blue ribbons or miniature flag pins in a personal show of patriotism. The flag is a symbol of our nation and its strength around which people have rallied as we have responded and reached out to one another throughout this fall and winter.
Many may be unaware that one of Carlisle's own, Elizabeth Robbins Berry, was most interested in the flag as a symbol of patriotism, writing and lecturing on the topic in the late days of the nineteenth century and the early days of the twentieth. Her manuscripts and ephemera comprise one of the key archival collections of the Carlisle Historical Society and Town Historical Collections. Thanks to the recent Documentary Heritage Grant and the work of both Melissa Mannon and Conni Manoli-Skocay, this information is now organized in acid-free folders and boxes in the Society's new home, the Heald Homestead. The papers, booklets and photographs give us a glimpse of a woman who was nationally important, an activist for patriotism, a personal friend of Clara Barton and a visitor to the White House.
Carolyn Elizabeth Robbins was born in 1854 to John T. and Sarah Helen (Morgan) Robbins. Left motherless at a very young age, she was adopted by her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth (Shepard) and Gardner Fletcher Robbins of Carlisle. Their only child, a son, William Francis Robbins, had died at an early age. As a young girl, she was known as Betty Robbins and after her marriage as Elizabeth Robbins Berry. There is little other documentation about her life, but a number of important primary source documents are in the archives.
Indeed, many items in both the Town and Society historical collections were donated by Elizabeth Robbins Berry before her death in 1934.
Among the items is a small watercolor painting of two flags with a most interesting typewritten "history" affixed to its back. It reads:
"This Picture was painted by Miss Jessica Randolph Smith of North Carolina, daughter of Orren Randolph Smith, who designed the first confederate flag.
Mr. Smith had been a soldier of the Mexican War, and his love for the American Flag continued so strong that he made the new flag so lit it that it was often mistaken for it, and another Confederate Flag soon took its place."
Miss Smith presented the picture to her friend Elizabeth Robbins Berry (born in Carlisle) with these words:
"Not my Flag, not Your Flag, but Our Flag," referring to the Victorious Flag above the other. After the death of her father, Miss Smith was for some years with the U.S. Navy Department at Washington holding the highest position in that department possible for a woman."
It was an appropriate gift for a friend who promoted knowledge about the flag.
Our Flag and its use
Elizabeth Robbins Berry authored a booklet entitled Our Flag and Its Use which was published by John B. Lewis of Boston in 1914. She wrote this pamphlet for the National Association of Patriotic Instructors when she was secretary of that organization. In it she discusses the genesis, history and etiquette relating to "old glory." Mrs. Berry reminds us that the "authentic history" of our flag began with the Congressional Resolution passed on June 14, 1777 which read:
"Resolved: That the Flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation."
According to Mrs. Berry, John Adams supposedly proposed this resolution, then a committee "called upon" Betsy Ross to discuss the design. Mrs. Ross recommended a five-pointed star for its artistic characteristics.
The sixteen page booklet closes with a discussion of flag etiquette and notations as to meanings associated with the display of the flag. She writes:
"There are many fine distinctions in the sizes and mountings of the national flag when used by various offices and for especial services of the army and navy.
The peace flag is the national flag with a white border. A flag displayed union down is a signal of distress and the national salute to the flag is twenty-one guns."
Among the other papers left by Mrs. Berry are letters, manuscripts, a patriotic song she wrote based on the poem "The Unknown Dead," and a copy of the New Republic Magazine of February 1908. She was editor of the "Patriotic Women" section for this magazine described as a patriotic illustrated monthly for "American Homes, American Schools, American Youth, American Women and Men." It is interesting that the magazine sold for 10 cents a copy or $1.00 for a year's subscription! Also surviving is a small card that admitted Mrs. Berry as a member of the New Republic staff to the south grounds of the White House on Monday, April 20, 1908. It indicates that she could come with "Kodak Cameras."
Elizabeth Robbins Berry furthered patriotic causes. She would be pleased to see the many flags gracing Carlisle homes, cars and businesses today.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito