Sunday, July 17, 2011

Idaho: The Only State Seal Designed by a Woman

What do a warrior, a pregnant explorer, a screen siren, a WWII flying ace, the host of "Truth or Consequences", and an Olympic gold medalist skier have in common?
Idaho! err, sort of!
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
Sacajawea (National Archives)
Lana Turner (production still)
Flying Ace "Pappy" Boyington (USMC)

TV host Ralph Edwards is the nephew of Emma Edwards, designer of the Idaho State Seal (Photo:
Olympic medalist, Peekabo Street (Photo:

At some point in their lives, they called Idaho home. Born and raised there or traveling through and deciding to stay to make it home, Idaho is special to them. Well, everyone except for Ralph Edwards who originally is from Colorado. His aunt, however, Emma Edwards, came to visit friends and ended up staying, falling in love, and adding to the history of her adopted state. Nice!

Idaho is a Wild West state that grew out of a territory in 1863, shortly before the end of the Civil War. In 1890, it became the 43rd state. This is the same year science decides there definitely is a cause/ effect relationship between disease and germs, that artist Vincent van Gogh dies, that Ellis Island receives its first immigrant, and that a new labor union is formed – the United Mine Workers of America – a union that definitely will be noticed by this fledgling mining state.

About the Idaho state flag

Miss Emma Edwards, c. 1890
Idaho formalized its flag in 1907 with a design built around the state seal. The Idaho State Seal is unique as it is the only state seal to be designed by a woman. Really? you may ask. Really.

The seal by Silas Cochran, 1863
About the state seal
 Originally, it is thought that a clerk working in the Secretary of   State's office designed the first state seal. The clerk's name is Silas D.  Cochran and the design of this seal if formal. It bears the legend "the Union" at a time when the Civil War was still fresh in people's minds. A bold American eagle is holding a shield that comprises images of  mountains with a sunrise behind them. 

The seal by Gov. Caleb Lyon, 1866
  Despite its classicism, it   apparently was not a hit with everyone for in 1866, Governor Caleb Lyon redesigned the seal himself. Lyon's design features two women, one with a staff in one hand and the flag tied around her hips. An elk's antlers rise above a shield and the legend, "Salve" is at the bottom. In Latin, salve means hello. In English, the word means a curative ointment. We do not know what Lyon intended. Suffice to say, this seal was in and out of use until 1890. 

In 1890, the year of statehood, a national contest was held for the design of the Idaho State Seal. The prize was $100 which was a lot in those days. At the time, Miss Emma Sarah Etine Edwards, the daughter of the former governor of Missouri had finished art school in the East and was visiting friends on her way to California. She never made it to California as she fell in love with Idaho and wanted to stay there and teach art – which is exactly what she did. 

Miss Edwards' painting (State Historical Society archives)
From Miss Edwards' version of events, she interviewed as many legislators as possible to get the inside track on what they thought the seal should represent. Given her family background, she had access to the local politicos – and she used it. (The legislators were also miners and they all told her to include a miner in the seal but don't make his clothes red. Make them brown. So she did.) 

Miss Edwards' seal won the competition and became the official state seal in 1891. 

Her original painting for the seal is in the Idaho State Historical Society.
As for Miss Edwards, she married and became Mrs. Emma Edwards Green.

It's official ... until 1957
The seal, as designed by Mrs. Green, includes a woman (a virginal icon representing both liberty as well as suffrage) and a man (the miner). The elk horns and the mountains remained from Gov. Lyon's design. Above the mountains, however, Mrs. Green included the light from a sunrise. Above the shield is the legend (in Latin), "Esto Perpetua," meaning, in perpetuity or, more aptly, Idaho forever.

The Idaho State Seal has not changed that much since Mrs. Green first designed it but it was "updated" in 1957. Same design but the images were clarified to better illustrate the state's chief natural resources and its chief industries of agriculture, mining and forestry.

The revisions, by the way, were done by a man: Mr. Paul B. Evans. Technically, this design is the official state seal (

But what about the state flag?
The Idaho state flag with its seal
In 1907, the state legislature adopted the official state flag, a field of dark blue with the state seal centered in the middle. Underneath it is a banner with "Idaho". A gold fringe encircles the entire flag.

And what about that WWII flying ace, Pappy Boyington?
Well, he's a former U.S. Marine fighter pilot and the original Black Sheep squadron leader. He shot down 26 planes before he was shot down and survived the end of the war in a Japanese POW camp. He is both legend and hero.

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

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