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Students saying the Pledge of Allegiance
Blend Images/Alamy Stock Photo
A class in Maryland recites the Pledge of Allegiance in 1953.
Mark Kauffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance
The Pledge Turns 125
How did the Pledge of Allegiance become an American tradition?

By the editors of Scholastic News

In schools across the country, millions of students begin their day with these words: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

That, of course, is the start of the Pledge of Allegiance. You might think that the pledge dates back to the country’s earliest days, like the American flag itself. But actually it wasn’t written until more than a century after the United States became a country. The well-known American tradition of reciting (saying something aloud that you have memorized) the pledge started 125 years ago, when it was first published—in a magazine for kids!

A PLEDGE FOR THE AGES

The story begins in August 1892, in Boston, Massachusetts. Francis Bellamy was working for a popular magazine called The Youth’s Companion. The magazine’s editor wanted to encourage schools to host patriotic events to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Bellamy’s boss asked him to write a salute to the flag that students would recite as part of the Columbus Day celebration.

Bellamy wrote the pledge in only two hours, never thinking it would become a part of history. But saying the pledge became a ritual (an action or set of actions that are repeated often) in schools, at public events, and before each meeting of the U.S. Congress. In 1942, Congress declared that the Pledge of Allegiance should be said with your right hand over your heart—a tradition that continues today.

This article first appeared in the September 4, 2017, issue of Scholastic News Edition 5/6.

Click here for an infographic explaining what the words of the Pledge of Allegiance mean.

SPECIAL FEATURE: WE THE PEOPLE . . .

We celebrate America’s independence on July 4 each year. But September 17 may be just as important to our nation’s history. On that date in 1787, the document that set up our national government—the U.S. Constitution—was signed. The famous first three words of the Constitution are “We the People.” Our nation’s Founders chose those words to show that the American people are at the heart of our democracy.

To learn more about our democracy—and how you can get involved in it—visit We the People, our new civics and media literacy website.