By Dori Partain
Creation of the Ecology Flag, the official flag for Earth Day, was truly a grassroots effort.
The ecology symbol, often referred to as the Theta symbol for its resemblance to the Greek letter, was created by artist Ron Cobb (1937-2020) as a political cartoon that was published in the Los Angeles Free Press on November 7, 1969.
In his black and white illustration, Cobb created the symbol by combining the lower case “e” for environment and “o” of organism, with the outer outline of the “e” representing the ellipse of planetary orbits and the inner outline of the “o” representing unity and wholeness. The symbol was placed inside a square and Cobb offered his design to the public domain to be used on banners and signs as illustrated in the cartoon, with the date October 25, 1969.
A day to make Americans aware of environmental issues was first proposed and promoted by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. First proposed as a series of teach-ins at universities that would begin on the first day of spring, Nelson hired activist Denis Hayes to be the national coordinator. In turn, Nelson worked with Julien Koenig, a volunteer with advertising experience, who suggested “Earth Day” as the official name for the event and the date of April 22, which was Koenig’s birthday – which rhymed with Earth Day.
For an article about the first Earth Day, Look Magazine published the first image of the unofficial ecology flag in the April 21, 1970 edition. An unidentified illustrator combined the style of the United States flag, with 13 stripes and the ecology symbol in the canton (field of stars). The colors of green and white represented green land and pure air, and the ecology symbol was chartreuse within a green canton.
Inspired by the Look illustration, 16-year-old Betsy Bose (nee Vogel) of Shreveport, La., stitched a homemade fabric version of the flag illustration to hang on her high school’s flagpole.
Denied by the principal at C.E. Byrd High School, she approached the Louisiana Legislature and Governor John McKeithen to gain permission and her flag flew for the first anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 1971. Soon after, the ecology flag was available commercially, as shown on this embroidered patch.
For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, Bose’s original flag was flown at C. E. Byrd High School, with the principal’s permission.