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Unlike other symbols of Iowa such as the state seal and flower, the state flag of Iowa was not designated until the 20th century. Less than 20 years after Iowa joined the Union, the US Civil War was waged, after which state citizens felt the national flag was all that was needed. The flag was designed in 1917 in response to requests from National Guard members for an emblem to represent them. After a brief period of use for this purpose, the design as the state flag was officially adopted by the state General Assembly in 1921.
Iowa joined the Union as the 29th state in 1846. Between then and 1917, several groups had called for a flag to represent the state. Detractors, however, felt that designating a state flag of Iowa would serve to minimize the importance of the US national flag. This feeling was especially prominent in the years following the Civil War, as the nation was newly reunited and Iowans did not wish to give the appearance of separating themselves from the Union.
In 1917, National Guard units from Iowa joined those from other states in service along the border between the US and Mexico. The guardsmen noted that the other regiments had state flags to represent them, and they expressed a desire for a flag of their own. Governor William L. Harding requested the design of a state flag of Iowa, a project that was undertaken by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). DAR member and Knoxville, Iowa, resident Dixie Cornell Gebhardt was responsible for the flag's final appearance.
Gebhardt chose a tricolor background for the state flag of Iowa, with equal-size vertical stripes of blue, white and red. This color scheme was a nod to the French background of the state, which was acquired by the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase from France. The colors also have separate meanings, with the blue standing for justice, loyalty and truth, the white symbolizing purity, and the red representing courage.
The blue and red stripes are solid, without any designs featured on them. The white stripe contains an eagle, the national bird of the US, carrying blue banners in its beak. These banners feature the Iowa state motto, "Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain." By combining the national symbol with the state motto, Gebhardt sought to show that Iowa was a part of the US, not a separate entity. The final feature of the state flag of Iowa is the state's name in red capital letters beneath the eagle.
After the Iowan National Guardsmen used the flag during World War I, the state officially adopted it as the state flag of Iowa on 29 March 1921. State regulations govern the proper size and display of the flag, including a provision that all schools in the state must fly the flag each school day. The US Flag Code sets forth guidelines for display with the national flag.