Vol. 16 Luxembourgers in the United States: Bernard J. Cigrand

Bernard J. Cigrand (October 1, 1866 – May 16, 1932) was a dentist of Luxembourgish descent and was considered by many to be the "Father of Flag Day."  

He was born in Waubeka, Wisconsin. His father Nicholas Cigrand had emigrated to Wisconsin in 1852 from Bourglinster, Luxembourg, and his mother Susan Cigrand was from Mensdorf, Luxembourg.

Bernard J. Cigrand became a public-school teacher at Stony Hill School in Waubeka. He held his first observance of US Flag Day with his students on June 14, 1885. He chose that day because on June 14, 1777, the United States Congress officially adopted the stars and stripes as the US flag. This celebration was the humble beginning of Cigrand’s passionate life-mission to have a “birthday celebration” instituted by the US government to celebrate the US Flag.

In 1886, Cigrand left Wisconsin and made his way to Northern Indiana Normal School to begin studies in dentistry. He then entered Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago and finally Lake Forest University. Upon his graduation, Bernard began his dental practice in Chicago. He became a noted dentist and professor of dentistry.  He served on the faculties of Northwestern University, the Illinois School of Dentistry, of which he was Dean, and the University of Illinois. He was also elected President of the American College of Dental Surgery and served in this capacity for several years.

During his time as a practicing dentist, Bernard never gave up on his mission to promote the US Flag and to have a designated US Flag Day. He made his first proposal for a US Flag Day in a series of articles in the Chicago Argus in June 1886. He continued campaigning for this cause in local and national newspapers and magazines, and on the national lecture platform.   

In 1894, Bernard J. Cigrand and LeRoy Van Horn, a Civil War veteran from Chicago, issued a press release calling “all persons who desire to commemorate the birthday of the American flag” to attend a meeting in the assembly hall at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Chicago. At that meeting, the American Flag Day Association was formed with the purpose of celebrating the birth of the US Flag on the third Saturday of June and to educate school children of its meaning. Bernard was named secretary of the organization, and in 1896, he became its president.

The crowning achievement of Cigrand’s 30-year advocacy came on May 30, 1916, when  President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide observance of US Flag Day on June 14 of each year.

To note Cigrand’s achievement, in 1953, the National Fraternal Congress restored the Stony Hill School in Waubeka, Wisconsin. Since that time, an annual commemoration of US Flag Day has been held at the school on the Sunday before June 14. In 1977, Stony Hill School was given to the Ozaukee County Historical Society who continues to operate it as a living museum. In addition, a local National Flag Day Foundation operates the Americanism Center in Waubeka as a museum to US Flag Day and Bernard J. Cigrand.

In 2000, in recognition of his Luxembourgish roots, Luxembourg’s Ministry of Culture and National Sites and Monuments Service had a bronze bust of Bernard J. Cigrand placed in Waubeka. Copies of the original bronze bust have been placed at Blackberry Farm in Aurora, Illinois, and in front of the Cigrand ancestral home in Bourglinster, Luxembourg. All of these efforts continue to keep alive the important memory of Bernard J. Cigrand, the son of Luxembourg immigrants and the Father of US Flag Day.

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