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On June 14, Flag Day commemorates the 1777 official adoption of the Stars and Stripes flag design to represent the United States of America. And while the Arkansas state flag did not come to be until 1913, it holds a similar symbolism in design and meaning.
U.S.S. Arkansas, a dreadnought battleship used in both world wars, was to be commissioned in 1912. Straight from a New York Shipyard and already in the waters, the Pine Bluff chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) wanted to ceremoniously present a “stand of colors,” including an Arkansas state flag. Accordingly, three women submitted a request to Secretary of State Earl W. Hodges for an official state flag to complete their plan.
They swiftly received a response, “There is not one.”
With this information, the Pine Bluff DAR chapter determined to conduct a statewide design process for an official Arkansas state flag. Sixty-five entries came in from all over the state, including crayon drawings, miniature silk examples and watercolor sketches.
Image used with permission from the Arkansas State Archives.
Secretary of State Hodges served as the selection committee chair and surrounded himself with a distinguished group of decision-makers.
The committee gathered in the early days of 1913 and chose a design by Miss Willie Hocker, a Pine Bluff DAR chapter member.
Image courtesy of Mike Keckhaver.
Arkansas’ Secretary of State’s Office records the following about Miss Hocker’s design:
On a red rectangular field, Miss Hocker placed a large white diamond bordered by 25 white stars on a blue band. Three blue stars in a straight line were centered in the diamond.
Miss Hocker explained that the colors in her design meant that Arkansas was one of the United States of America. The three blue stars had three meanings: Arkansas belonged to three countries (France, Spain and the United States) before attaining statehood; 1803 was the year of the Louisiana Purchase when the land that is now the United States acquired Arkansas; and Arkansas was the third state created from the purchase by the United States, after Louisiana and Missouri.
The 25 stars mean Arkansas was the 25th state to be admitted to the Union. The diamond represents Arkansas as the nation’s first diamond-producing state. The two parallel white stars at the diamond’s left and right points symbolize Arkansas and Michigan’s dual admission to the Union.
Image used with permission from Arkansas State Archives
Willie Kavanaugh Hocker was born in Kentucky, the youngest child of William Kavanaugh, a Civil War veteran and Virginia Brown. The Hockers moved to Arkansas in 1870 to a plantation in the Dudley Lake Township in Jefferson County.
Willie attended local schools in Pine Bluff and Kentucky and obtained a teaching certificate from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Miss Hocker was visiting friends in Pine Bluff when she drew her winning submission. In true form, for a public school teacher, her drawing was submitted on school drawing paper using watercolors.
Miss Hocker was a poet and taught school in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County for 34 years, always emphasizing Arkansas History. She remained a member of the Pine Bluff Chapter of D.A.R. and other civic and societal groups, like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Colonial Dames Society.
Willie Hocker is the only woman, besides Betsy Ross, the designer of the U.S. flag, to have her design represent a state.
In February 1913, the state Legislature official voted on the design for the Arkansas state flag. Over time the star notations changed in the middle to represent Arkansas’s participation in the Confederate States of America from 1861-1865. Finally, in 1924, the new design was adopted where the star above “Arkansas” represents the Confederacy’s participation, and the three stars below stay true to Hocker’s original design concepts.
While many of the other submissions included Arkansas state symbols like apple blossoms scattered around, the state seal, farming tools or 13 rays of color, this design linked Arkansas to the United States of America in such a direct way. These connections include the stars and stripes, capturing the symbolism of the 24 states to come before us and matching the patriotic red, white and blue.
I Salute the Arkansas Flag With Its Diamond and Stars. We Pledge Our Loyalty to Thee.”
Image by Wabbeseka Memorial Committee.
Image used with permission from Arkansas State Archives.
Cover image used with permission from Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
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