History of the South Dakota State Flag

Bureau of Administration

 

Our state flag and seal are symbols of the proud heritage we, as South Dakotans, are privileged to enjoy.  It is proper that the people be aware of the history relating to the adoption of these official emblems.

May the information contained herein not only serve to provide an appreciation for the inheritance which our flag and seal represent, but also as an inspiration for a continued pride and faith in the future of our state.

 

 

State Pledge

 

 

I pledge loyalty and support to the flag and 
State of South Dakota, land of sunshine, land of infinite variety.

 

 

Under God the People Rule

 


Perhaps it is singular that the State of South Dakota has two differently designed official state flags.  It also has an official coat of arms.  The history of this proud banner must necessarily begin with the state seal, for the state seal is a most prominent emblem of the flag design.


There seems to be no question of the fact that the design of the Great Seal of the State of South Dakota and it's motto "Under God the People Rule" were the suggestion of Dr. Joseph Ward, that great South Dakotan who founded Yankton College.  The Committee on the Great Seal, during the Constitutional Convention of 1885, approved the design.  But, even here, we find a question.  The original Constitution of the State of South Dakota which is in the office of the Secretary of State is dated September 1883, and it is clearly evident that a figure five was superimposed upon the figure three.  At the conclusion of this Constitution is also written, in a manner quite different from the writing of the contents, "Done at Sioux Falls this 25th day of September 1885".  Article XXI, Miscellaneous, Section 1, reads: "Seal and Coat of Arms.  The design of the Great Seal of Dakota shall be as follows: A circle within which shall appear in the left foreground, a smelting furnace and other features of mining work. In the left background, a range of hills.  In the right foreground, a farmer at his plow.  In the right background, a herd of cattle and a field of corn.  Between the two parts thus described shall appear a river bearing a steamboat.  Properly divided between the upper and lower edges of the circle shall appear the legend, "Under God the People Rule," which shall be the motto of the State of South Dakota.  Exterior to this circle and within a circumscribed circle shall appear in the upper part the words "State of Dakota," in the lower part the words "Great Seal" and the date in Arabic numerals of the year in which the state shall be admitted to the Union."

Since no record or minutes of the Constitutional Convention of 1883, other than this document, are known, and since the State Constitution as adopted by the Constitution Convention of 1885 was the actual document written by the Convention of 1883 with several additions, corrections and deletions, it is not known whether the design of the Great Seal was established in 1883 or 1885, especially since Section 1 of Article XXI is on a page separate from Section 2 and those following.

It is noted that at the Constitutional Convention of 1885, Mr. Coffin of Beadle County presented a resolution that the seal of the state shall bear the motto: "Under God the People Rule."  This was referred to the Committee on the State Seal, and Dr. Joseph Ward headed this committee.

Of course, South Dakota was not granted statehood at this time.  So, again the matter came up at the Constitutional Convention of 1889.   Here we find the possibility of knowing the actual creator of the emblem.  Perhaps it was John Banvard of Watertown who created the seal according to the design devised by Dr. Ward and the Committee on the State Seal of the previous Constitutional Conventions, for we note that at the 1889 convention, Mr. Clough of Codington County, "I hold in my hand a letter and hanging on the stenographer's desk is a seal from Mr. John Banvard (creator of the worlds largest cyclorama of the Mississippi) from Watertown.  I move that it be referred to the Committee on Seal."  It is likely that this seal which became official with the adoption of Article XXI of the Constitution.  However, at least one portion of the wording was changed from that of 1885, as the name of the state was changed from to "State of Dakota."  The constitution as adopted in essence from that of 1885 was passed in 1889.  One other noteworthy change was that the northern boundary of the state was moved from the 46th parallel of north latitude a few miles south to the 7th standard parallel.

Evidently, South Dakota had no official state flag until the year 1909.  Here we quote from Wi-iyohi Bulletin Volume II, November 1, 1948: "In 1909 Senator Ernest May of Deadwood came into the Historical Society office.  Seth Bullock wanted a state flag.  May asked Doane Robinson about it and was told by Robinson that Ida Anding, now Mrs. McNeil, former operator of KGFX radio of Pierre, who was then a stenographer in the Historical offices, would design him a flag.  She did.  It was a blazing sun, on an azure background.  May liked the design, and Senate Bill 208 was introduced.  On the floor later, he moved that 'on the reverse of the blazing sun shall appear the Great Seal of the State of South Dakota in dark blue.'  This was adopted and the bill passed.  Money to buy two flags was appropriated.  One went to the Secretary of State, and Seth Bullock of Camp No. 1, United Spanish Veterans of South Dakota, got the other."

 

 

The state flag was then designed by Ida M. Anding, legislative librarian, in 1909 according to the following specifications: "The Flag of South Dakota shall consist of a field of blue, one and two-thirds as long as it is wide, in the center of which shall be a blazing sun in gold, two-fifths as wide in diameter as the width of the flag.  Above this sun shall be arranged in the arc of the circle, in gold letters, the words 'South Dakota' and below this sun in the arc of the circle shall be arranged the words in gold letters, 'The Sunshine State', and on the reverse of the blazing sun shall be printed in dark blue the Great Seal of the State Of South Dakota.  The edges of the flag shall be trimmed with a fringe of gold, to be in proportion to the width of the flag.  The staff shall be surmounted by a spearhead to which shall be attached cord and tassels of suitable length and size."

This was the only official state flag until the year 1963.  It became increasingly evident by this time that the cost to manufacture a flag with a different emblem on each side was expensive to the degree that there were few South Dakota state flags in existence, and they were seldom flown.  In the legislature of 1963, House Bill 503 was introduced by Representative William Sahr of Hughes County, enacted, and was approved by the Governor on March 11th.  It read as follows:

"Section 1. that SDC 1960 Supp. 55.0108 be, and the same hereby is, amended to read as follows:
     55.0108 State flag.  The state flag or banner shall consist of a field of sky blue one and two-thirds as long as it is wide.  Centered on such field shall be the Great Seal of South Dakota made in conformity with the terms of the Constitution, which shall be four-ninths (4/9) the width of the said flag in diameter; such seal shall be on a white background with the seal outlined in dark blue thereon, or in the alternative shall be on a sky blue background with the seal outlined in dark blue thereon; surrounding the seal in gold shall be a serrated sun whose extreme width shall be five-ninths (5/9) the width of the said flag.  The words 'South Dakota' symmetrically arranged to conform to the circle of the sun and seal shall appear in gold letters one-eighteenth (1/18) the width of the said field above said sun and seal and the words 'The Sunshine State' in like sized gold letters and in like arrangement shall appear below the said sun and seal.  Flags designed of such material as may be provident for outdoor use need no fringe, but for indoor and display usage shall have a golden fringe one-eighteenth (1/18) the width of said flag on the three sides other than the hoist.

   All state flags made in conformity with state law prior to the effective date of this act shall remain official state flags, but the creation of a state flag from and after the effective date of this act, other than in conformity herewith, is prohibited. "

It appears this was a wise decision as the cost of the South Dakota state flag was greatly reduced, and more requests for the state flags were made than ever before.  In the South Dakota legislative session of 1966, House Bill 503 was enacted and was approved February 3, 1966.  This law created a revolving fund known as the "Special State Flag Account" in the office of the State Treasurer.  This law also directed the Secretary of Finance to keep on hand at all times a supply of South Dakota flags for "distribution, sale or loan" to "meet the demand therefore from various public, semi-public, and private organizations or persons."

As a result of this Act and the great publicity it received, together with the efforts of a number of dedicated South Dakotans, there has come about an unprecedented demand and use of this great banner of our proud state.

In 1992 legislative action changed the wording on the flag to read "The Mount Rushmore State".  Codified law now reads as follows:
  
   §1-6-4. State flag - Description.
  
   The state flag or banner shall consist of a sky-blue one and two-thirds as long as it is wide.  Centered on such field shall be the great seal of South Dakota made in conformity with the terms of the Constitution, which shall be four-ninths the width of the flag in diameter.  The seal shall be on a white background with the seal outlined in dark blue or, in the alternative, shall be on a sky-blue background with the seal outlined in dark blue thereon. Surrounding the seal in gold shall be a serrated sun whose extreme width shall be five-ninths the width of the flag.  The words "South Dakota" symmetrically arranged to conform to the circle of the sun and seal shall appear in gold letters one-eighteenth the width of the field above the sun and seal and the words "The Mount Rushmore State" in like-sized gold letters and in like arrangement shall appear below the sun and seal.  Flags designed of such material as may be provident for outdoor use need have no fringe but flags for indoor and display usage shall have a golden fringe one-eighteenth the width of the flag on the three sides other than the hoist.

   Source:SL 1909, ch 230, §1; RC 1919, §5064; SDC 1939, §55.0108; SL 1939, ch 205; 1963, ch 419, §1; 1992, ch 1, §2.

§1-6-5. Existing flags remain official.

   All state flags made  in conformity with state law prior to July 1, 1992, shall remain official state flags but the creation of a state flag from and after that date, other than in conformity with
§1-6-4, is prohibited.
§1-6-4 Existing flags remain official.

   Source:SDC 1939, §55.0108 as added by SL 1963, ch 419, §1;1992, ch 1, §3.

   §1-6-6. Sale and loan of state flags - Revolving account.

   It shall be the duty of the Bureau of Administration to acquire, by purchase or otherwise, and to keep on hand at all times a sufficient quantity of the South Dakota state flags as specified in §1-6-4, for distribution, loan, or sale, as it may determine, in order to meet the demand therefore from various public, semipublic and private organizations or persons.  All funds from the sale of such flags shall be covered into, and there is hereby created within the state treasury, a revolving account known as the special state flag account, from which payments shall be made by the bureau for the purchase of state flags and their replacements as it may deem sufficient from time to time.  Requests for the loan of such state flags shall be filled under such rules and regulations as the bureau may establish.

 

 

Miscellaneous

 

 

The State Flag Account was established March 11, 1963, and the authority broadened and appropriation increased on July 1, 1966.  House Bill 503 in 1966 created a revolving fund known as the "Special State Flag Account".  The flag has been carried proudly into battle by our infantry men, flying on tanks, overhead in all manner of aircraft, and in all types of naval craft from the river patrol boat to the largest aircraft carriers.

The flag of South Dakota flies over state buildings, schools and institutions, over the SAC base at Ellsworth South Dakota and all National Guard installations.

Flags are presented by the Governor to new industries, building dedications, to state dignitaries and other outstanding South Dakotans.