The Peace Flag hanging in mezzanine balcony (CH97 00547). © The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

The “Peace Flag,” on display on the second floor of The Mary Baker Eddy Library, is an artifact with a history that tells us a great deal about the peace movements active in the United States and Europe in the early twentieth century.

The idea of a “Peace Flag” was first proposed in 1891, at the third Universal Peace Congress in Rome. The Congress “devised a generalized Peace Flag design, which was simply the home nation’s flag bordered in white to signify non-violent conflict resolution.”1 This flag was used by both the American Peace Society (a pacifist group founded in 1828) and the Universal Peace Union (founded in 1866), but never officially adopted by either group. In 1905 The New York Times noted: “It is hoped that this white bordered flag will have a tendency to enlighten the people, and develop a sense of peace, justice, and liberty throughout the entire world.”2

The flag in the Library’s collections was made in New York City, in the early 1900s. It is made of silk with a white border and trimmed in white fringe, measures 101 inches by 80 inches, and has 45 stars.

This flag was originally made for Dr. Robert S. Freedman, a New York physician active in pacifist circles. It was first displayed in Andrew Carnegie’s New York City home. A business magnate and philanthropist, Carnegie contributed $1,500,000 in 1903 for the erection of the Peace Palace at The Hague.”3 The flag then moved around different locations in Washington D.C., including one peace meeting.

The Peace Flag was used as a symbol of peace and of national commitment to the peace movement. For example, Dr. Freedman telegraphed Alfred H. Love, a well-known peace activist and president of the Universal Peace Union in Philadelphia, asking to see the flag. They both took it to the Betsy Ross display in Philadelphia and laid it on the chair of this legendary maker of the first American flag. Next it was laid on the grave of Benjamin Franklin while a prayer was said. The flag was also taken for a series of tours around England.

When the Peace Flag returned to the United States, it went to the St. Louis Interparliamentary Union Conference in 1904, and then returned to New York City for a meeting of the Federation of Christian Churches. From there it went on display at a Quaker peace meeting, “at which the history of the International Peace Movement was discussed.”4

L01426B

Calling card with Mary Baker Eddy’s note of thanks (L01426B).

In early April 1907, Mary Baker Eddy received a letter from Augusta E. Stetson of First Church of Christ, Scientist, New York City, about the National Arbitration and Peace Congress, to be held in New York April 14-17. Stetson went on to say the executive committee had asked churches to hold services on Sunday evening April 14, to familiarize people with the aim and purpose of the congress. Meetings to support the congress were held in The Mother Church in Boston, as well as in several Christian Science churches in New York City. The April 20 Christian Science Sentinel reported that the Boston meeting, “which was presided over by Rev. William P. McKenzie, was a success in every way. The large auditorium, with a seating capacity of five thousand, was completely filled before the meeting opened at half past seven, and fully a thousand persons stood throughout the exercises” – a good indication of local interest in peace movements.

A week earlier, in an editorial in the April 13 Sentinel, Editor Archibald McLellan had noted that Eddy was “deeply interested” in the subject of peace, saying that “she has pointed to obedience to the First Commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me,’ as the means for universal peace and salvation.” He also mentioned that William McCrackan, First Reader of The Mother Church, would officially represent the Church at the congress.

After the conclusion of the Peace Congress in late April, Stetson presented what is now the Library’s Peace Flag to Mary Baker Eddy. The records are not entirely clear as to how Stetson obtained the flag. A number of Christian Scientists were involved in the Peace Congress, and several of them were members of First Church of Christ, Scientist, New York City – Stetson’s church. In fact, during the Peace Congress Andrew Carnegie was recognized for his great support of the movement and presented with one of the two peace flags that hung behind the podium during the sessions. It was presented to him by Helen Beach Tillotson and Richmond P. Hobson, of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Tillotson, a Christian Scientist, was likely involved in donating the remaining flag to Eddy.

The Christian Science Monitor Weekly Magazine Section, 10 June 1936 image of the Peace Flag.

The Christian Science Monitor Weekly Magazine Section, 10 June 1936 image of the Peace Flag.

Quickly deciding to give the flag to her church, Eddy said she felt “that the flag should become the property of all the Christian Science churches, through being branches of the Mother Church.”5 The Christian Science Board of Directors wrote to Eddy to thank her for it: “The Directors have received the Peace Flag which you so kindly sent to them to be held by The Mother Church for all the branch churches. They thank you for this memorable, beautiful flag, and for your loving words which accompanied it.”6

Not until some years later – shortly before the Church’s Annual Meeting in the spring of 1936 – did the Christian Science Board of Directors and the Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society decide to hang the flag in the Publishing House. Their initial thought was to hang the flag downstairs, near the Mapparium. They consulted with Chester Lindsay Churchill, the architect of the Publishing House, and he recommended hanging it in the “…mezzanine on the blank wall between the elevators and the library, centered between the archway and directly over the memorial [tablet] to Mrs. Eddy below.”7 The Peace Flag was installed in a bronze, dustproof case made by the Gorham Company of Providence, RI. Today it still hangs on the second floor mezzanine, above the Publishing House Lobby.

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  1. “Peace flag,” accessed April 23, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_flag.
  2. “International Peace Flags,” The New York Times, September 17, 1905.
  3. Andrew Carnegie,” accessed April 16, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Carnegie.
  4. Peace Flag Presented to Mrs. Eddy, By Augusta E. Stetson of New York, n.d. IC 92f.
  5. H. Cornell Wilson to the Christian Science Board of Directors, 2 May 1907, L01426.
  6. SF – Flags – The Christian Science Board of Directors to Mary Baker Eddy, 10 May 1907.
  7. Extract from Trustees Minutes, April 23, 1936, box 18693, folder 19779.