Local man donates piece of pledge history to Smithsonian

Published Oct 7, 2018 at 9:00am

An 1892 magazine in which the original Pledge of Allegiance first appeared in print has been donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., by Rome resident Frank P. Di Berardino.

Di Berardino, who serves as director of the National Bellamy Award Organization, said the September 8, 1892, issue of The Youth’s Companion magazine contains the pledge, as well as the official program for the 1892 National Public School Celebration of Columbus Day. Also donated was an entire collection of The Youth’s Companion weekly magazines from 1892.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy, who was raised in Rome, NY, attended Rome Free Academy, and is buried in the Rome Cemetery.

After learning that the National Museum of American History was interested in acquiring the September 8 issue for its collections, Di Berardino contacted the museum and offered the objects to its Division of Home and Community Life, which houses an extensive collection of artifacts depicting Americanization efforts in the nation’s schools from 1880 to 1920.

As conservator of the magazine collection, Di Berardino felt that the museum was the most logical and appropriate venue to permanently house the historically significant issues, and in particular the September 8 edition.

According to Di Berardino, the magazine collection was previously in the possession of the late Dr. Margarette S. Miller, founder and first director of the National Bellamy Award Organization, who through her research in the 1930s and 1940s proved that Francis Bellamy was the author of the original pledge.

Her testimony before the U.S. Library of Congress, as well as her ongoing efforts to document Bellamy as the pledge author, eventually resulted in official recognition by the U.S. government that Bellamy penned the now-famous patriotic oath.

Francis Bellamy accepted a position as advertising editor on the staff of The Youth’s Companion magazine in Boston in 1891. He subsequently was named chairman of the 1892 National Public School Celebration of Columbus Day to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the America discoveries. The goal of the plan was to conduct patriotism ceremonies in schools across the United States.

In 1942, Dr. Miller established the National Bellamy Award to honor outstanding high schools throughout the nation that have promoted the ideals embodied in the pledge. Over a period of almost four decades, the Bellamy Award became a symbol of an accomplished student body, distinguished alumni, a proficient school faculty and administration, and a cooperative partnership between the school and its community.

Prior to her death in 1984, Dr. Miller asked Di Berardino to serve as caretaker of the magazine collection, and eventually determine the appropriate repository for the items. She was regarded as the country’s
foremost authority on Francis Bellamy and the origin of the pledge.

Currently, the National Bellamy Award Organization continues to promote the ideals that are espoused in the pledge, and encourages schools to teach young people about the significance of responsible citizenship, community service, and the impact the historic oath has had on the social and cultural fabric of the United States.

“The Pledge of Allegiance is a significant and lasting part of our American heritage,” Di Berardino said. “I am honored to donate to the Smithsonian a piece of pledge history that will be safeguarded and preserved for future generations.

“The pledge has weathered many controversies over the years, but it remains an ideal, a goal toward which all citizens can aspire. Indeed, it is the most widely recited verse in American literature, having endured 126 years of social, political, and cultural change,” he noted.