She wrapped her life in the flag


After singer Kate Smith introduced Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" on her radio show on Armistice Day in 1938, some suggested that it ought to replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem.

It was a suggestion, no doubt, that annoyed Baltimore's Ella Virginia Houck Holloway. Better known as Mrs. Reuben Ross Holloway, she had been the driving force behind the federal law that eventually made Francis Scott Key's song the national anthem.

In 1918, Holloway persuaded Rep. J. Charles Linthicum, a Maryland Democrat, to introduce such a bill in Congress. President Herbert Hoover signed it into law in 1931.

A civic gadfly, who some would call eccentric, Holloway was an imposing figure whose stature was certainly heightened by her trademark millinery.

She always appeared in public wearing a tall shako, a cylindrical beaver hat with plume, that rose a foot above her head.

"The general contours of my hat and the Constitution of the United States must remain unchanged," she told The Sun in 1937.

"Some persons said she loved it because it resembled the Shot Tower, next to where she was born," observed the newspaper.

She considered herself an expert on the use and display of the flag and to that end toured the city to see that the flag was not improperly displayed.

She did have rather impressive credentials in this department, having served as chairman of the Committee on the Correct Use of the Flag of the United States Daughters of the War of 1812.

An outspoken woman, Holloway wasn't afraid to voice her opinions. She was against:

National prohibition.

Women's Suffrage and jury service ("A woman's place is in the home.").

Recognition of communist Russia.

Birth control ("That's a doctor's business.").

Giving American citizenship to Albert Einstein ("He admitted he was a pacifist.").

She was for:

A big army and navy.

Buying American products.

The execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

The morning salute to the flag.

On the latter, Holloway proposed that every adult and child begin their day that way.

"I believe it would be a patriotic thing if parents each morning gathered their children around them, and, after saying grace, if they do, to salute the flag before breakfast. The flag could be hung in the dining room or parlor."

She was known as a fanatic about standing when seeing or hearing "The Star-Spangled Banner," so a wag asked her what she would do if she heard it while in the bathtub.

"Young man, I stand when I hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' " she replied.

Holloway was 78 at her death in 1940 in the old Marine Hospital in Wyman Park.

"Mrs. Reuben Ross Holloway, who died yesterday, would have been a noteworthy person in any era," said a Sun editorial.

"But she merited all the attention she received. Her one concern was respect for the national flag, and she pursued that aim with a singleness of purpose which at first amused and then irritated the community. But because she persisted, the irritation passed.

"Mrs. Holloway, in ordinary social intercourse, was a kindly soul, with impeccable manners, a motherly interest in those with whom she came in contact and a smile that was almost certain to win over her interlocutor. She was wedded to a cause, perhaps, but she was also a gentlewoman in the demanding sense of the word. The town will miss her," concluded the editorial.

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