'Iowa's Betsy Ross': Remembering Dixie Cornell Gebhardt, the Knoxville woman who designed the Iowa state flag
Iowa was one of the few states that didn't have a state flag
The Knoxville woman who designed Iowa's state flag, Dixie Cornell Gebhardt, was born 155 years ago this week.
Born Nov. 18, 1866, Gebhardt was a leader with the state's chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which pushed for the formal adoption of a state flag by the Iowa Legislature during World War I.
The Legislature adopted the flag, with its tricolor vertical stripes and eagle in flight, in 1921 after years of fits and starts.
How the Iowa flag was created
Some Iowans thought, after the Civil War, a national flag should be enough and the state didn't need a flag of its own. But in 1917, Iowa service members stationed outside the state complained they needed an official state flag, as Iowa was one of the few states that didn't have one.
The Daughters of the American Revolution organized a flag committee that ultimately chose Gebhardt's design.
Gov. William L. Harding and the state war council formally accepted the flag in 1917, and it was shipped to an army regiment in New York, the Des Moines Register reported at the time.
Harding called Gebhardt "Iowa's Betsy Ross."
The Legislature passed a law making it the official state flag in 1921 -- without crediting Gebhardt for the design.
What does the Iowa flag symbolize?
In the mid-1940s, Gebhardt wrote an essay read to Des Moines schoolchildren, where she said that the flag's design "should be so simple that the schoolchild could recognize its symbolism and know it meant 'Iowa.' "
Gebhardt reportedly designed the flag to reflect Iowa's history as a former French territory, the state becoming part of the United States, and to reflect its soldiers' service.
Who was Dixie Cornell Gebhardt?
Gebhardt was born Dixie May Cornell in Knoxville on Nov. 18, 1866, to Dr. Riley Norman Cornell of New York and Mary Fletcher Timmonds of Kentucky, according to the 1914-published Blue Book of Iowa Women.
Her parents came to Knoxville in 1850. Gebhardt's father was a surgeon for Iowa troops during the Civil War.
Gebhardt spent almost all her life in Knoxville. She married George Tullis Gebhardt in 1900.
Gebhardt served with the P.E.O. Sisterhood, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Red Cross and other organizations.
What is Dixie's legacy?
In 1946, the flag made it onto a U.S. stamp to commemorate 100 years since Iowa became part of the United States.
First lady Mamie Eisenhower received the flag during her husband's presidency, which had special significance to her as she was born in Iowa.
Gebhardt died in Knoxville on Oct. 16, 1955. The year after her death, the Daughters partnered with Iowa First Lady Mary Hoegh to place a portrait of Gebhardt in the governor's mansion.
In 1996, the Legislature designated March 29 as Iowa Flag Day to commemorate the flag's 75th anniversary.
A memorial honoring Gebhardt sits by the Marion County Courthouse. The flag made it on another stamp in 2008. The Knoxville Library commemorated the flag's 100th anniversary of adoption this year.
Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.