Thirty five years elapsed between Minnesota statehood (1858) and the creation of an official flag. When the organizers of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago organized a contest for the best state flag, Minnesota’s Women’s Auxiliary Board of exhibition planners got to work. A six-person committee, chaired by Florence M. Greenleaf, had issued a call for a design in 1892. After reviewing more than 200 entries, they selected the flag created by artist and leatherworker Amelia Hyde Center of Minneapolis.
Center’s design incorporated rich symbolism. Each face of the flag was a different color—the front side white and the reverse blue with a gold fringe. In a nod to Minnesota’s Civil War regimental flags, the white field contained the Great Seal of Minnesota. The seal depicts a white farmer plowing a field while looking over his shoulder at a spear-wielding Native American man on horseback, who gallops off into the sunset. Center added a scrollwork ribbon and a wreath of pink-and-white lady’s slippers (Cypripedium reginae) around the seal. Norwegian immigrant sisters Pauline and Thomane Fjeld stitched together a silk prototype, and their flag took home a gold medal from the Chicago World’s Fair. At the Women’s Auxiliary Board’s urging, the Minnesota state legislature endorsed the prize-winning flag as the state’s official banner on April 4, 1893.
Minnesota’s first flag flew proudly, if infrequently, into the twentieth century. Its two-ply design made it costly to make, while high winds played havoc with the heavy double layers. In 1955, the state legislature formed a bipartisan commission to review the flag’s design. The commission considered revisions to make it more usable “while still preserving its basic symbolism.”
The commissioners recommended a simplified design. While preserving the state seal, they eliminated the scrollwork. Gone also was the double layer of fabric. Instead, the commission proposed a simple banner of medium blue, emblazoned with an image of the state seal. The new design simplified the font of the word “Minnesota” and added a reversed copy of the seal to the back. State Representative John Tracy Anderson proposed an alternate version that omitted the seal, but the Minnesota state legislature instead endorsed the commission’s design in March 1957.
The 1957 design still flies over state buildings today, although with a seal modified by state statute in 1983, yet efforts to reimagine Minnesota’s flag have persisted.
Vexillologists (flag experts) give the current banner low marks for its complexity, similarity to other state flags, and bland design. A House Governmental Operations Committee considered an overhaul as early as 1989. In that year, a citizens’ group, led by Rev. William Becker of Austin and flag store owner Lee Herold of Rochester, proposed their own design, labeled the “North Star banner.” Judges ranked this design first among 154 entries in a public contest sponsored by the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2001. That same year, the North American Vexillological Association ranked Minnesota’s flag among the nation’s ten worst.
The state legislature considered ten separate bills to redesign the state flag between 2000 and 2023. Over time, critics focused on the white settler and the departing Native American who appear in the state seal. For many settlers and their descendants in the nineteenth century, the image had symbolized the supposed “inevitability” of white settlement. Later, viewers pointed out that it also celebrated the forcible exile of Dakota people.
In 2022, State Senator and Dakota descendant Mary Kunesh called for a new flag design that better represents the resilience and contributions of Native Americans in Minnesota: “We have been here, we are here, and we’re still contributing to the health and wealth of Minnesota.” Others, including State Senator and former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, argued to keep the modified 1957 version.
In 2023, the state legislature established a State Emblems Redesign Commission. The thirteen-member group is charged with certifying new designs for the state flag and seal by January 1, 2024, and their choice will go into effect on May 11, 2024. The new designs must “accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota’s shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities.”
For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.