Alaska State Flag, and Song, Intertwined Around Benny Benson - part 2
Lester Henderson, the current commissioner of education, wanted an educational program in 1935 designed to familiarize school children with the new Alaska flag. Marie Drake had assumed the post of assistant commissioner of education in 1934 and suggested that something more was necessary to catch the children’s attention and spark their interest in the flag. “It ought to be a jingle, which the children can easily read and understand, or they won’t remember what it’s all about,” Marie said.
The commissioner immediately challenged her to write just that. In her position, Marie Drake edited and wrote most of the material for the department’s school bulletin circulated throughout the territorial school system. She was inspired by the entire flag story and a patriotic poem about the flag had been percolating in her mind. The poem was then published in the October 1935 edition of the school bulletin. Much of Drake’s poem reflected Benson’s ideas in his design notes.
Eight stars of gold on a field of blue-
Alaska’s flag, may it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flowers nearby;
The Gold of the early sourdough’s dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The ”Bear” - the “Dipper” - and shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
Over land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska’s flag to Alaskan’s dear,
The simple flag of the last frontier.
Born and raised in Van Wert, Ohio, Marie Drake and her husband Jim, arrived in Seattle during World War I, headed for overseas duty in Red Cross work, in which they had been trained. Soon after their arrival in Seattle, however, the war ended. “We had said our ‘goodbyes’ in the East, so we decided to come on to Alaska which had always been our dream. So Jim came to work in the post office and I, for the Commissioner of Education,” laughed Marie.
In 1958 Marie was honored by the University of Alaska with a honorary Doctorate of Letters, for her personal involvement in the history of the state. They remained for life, which for Marie lasted until March 5, 1963, when she passed away at St. Ann’s Hospital in Juneau.
Elinor Dusenbury had lived in Haines, Alaska from 1933 to 1936. Her husband had been stationed there as the commanding officer at the Chilkoot Barracks. At the end of his assignment and on the boat leaving Alaska toward her new home in Omaha, Nebraska, she was stirred by a longing for the state to compose a melody for the Flag Poem. Elinor had the skills and passion necessary for the task – she had been the public school choral director and a singer herself.
Carol Davis' book, "Alaska's Flag," quoted Dusenbury: “I wrote the music for Marie’s beautiful poetry from pure, unadulterated homesickness for Alaska! I shed more tears on the boat going out than I ever have, before or since. I had a book on Alaska with the picture of the flag and Marie’s poem. That did it!”
Upon arriving in Nebraska, Elinor wrote the melody for the poem, yet struggled with some of the details for several months. In the summer of 1938 Elinor meet Marie at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau and played the tune for her. Marie was so overwhelmed that she cried with joy. A publisher was secured for the poem and musical accompaniment and when the song and words were released, its popularity throughout the state was enormous.
The territorial legislature adopted "Alaska's Flag" as Alaska’s official song on Feb. 23, 1955. That November the convention was held and a constitution for the state of Alaska was written by the 55 delegates elected from around the state. The setting for this was Constitution Hall on the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks. In April of the next year, Alaska voters approved the new constitution and it would take effect upon the approval of statehood by Congress. By 1958 Congress had passed the statehood bill and on January 3, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower introduced Alaska to the United States as its 49th state.