Mark Twain
The State Historical Society of Missouri's Historic Missourians
Sacred Sun
Harry S. Truman
Marie Watkins Oliver
Rose O'Neil
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Marie Watkins Oliver (1854 - 1944)

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Introduction

Marie Watkins Oliver is known as “the Betsy Ross of Missouri.” She designed and created the Missouri State Flag. Missourians have a unique and representative flag because of her extensive research, vision, and perseverance.

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Early Years and Education

Ray County, Missouri Ray County, Missouri Line map of Ray County, 1897 Atlas.

[Tearin' Through the Wilderness, 1957, Marie Oliver Watkins (1885–1959), Papers, 1822–1962 (C2689), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]

Marie Elizabeth Watkins was born in Ray County, Missouri, on January 11, 1854. She was the sixth of eleven children born to Charles Allen Watkins Charles Allen Watkins (1820–1864).

[Marie Oliver Watkins (1885–1959), Papers, 1822–1962 (C2689), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
and Henrietta Rives Watkins. Henrietta Rives Watkins (1824–1885).

[Marie Oliver Watkins (1885–1959), Papers, 1822–1962 (C2689), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
The Watkins family The 1860 Census of Ray County, Missouri, lists C. A. Watkins (Charles Allen), Henrietta, and the children living at home at that time. Marie is listed as Mary, age 6.

[Eighth Census of the United States, Population Schedule, “Ray County, Missouri”]
lived in a large country house they called Westover. Marie’s father was a farmer and successful businessman. He developed property and businesses such as a brickyard, flour mill, Henrietta Rives Watkins (1824–1885).

[Tearin' Through the Wilderness, 1957,Marie Oliver Watkins (1885–1959), Papers, 1822–1962 (C2689), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
sawmill, store, and large warehouse with his uncle, James R. Allen.

Westover Westover Marie's childhood home Westover was the country home of Marie’s mother, Henrietta Rives Watkins.

[Marie Oliver Watkins (1885–1959), Papers, 1822–1962 (C2689), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
Marie was educated at home by governesses and at private schools in nearby Farmville. Later, she attended Richmond College
Richmond College in Richmond, Missouri Richmond College in Richmond, Missouri.

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Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876 Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876, page 1.

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Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876 Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876, page 2.

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Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876 Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876, page 3.

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Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876 Richmond College Announcement for the Academic Year 1875–1876, page 4.

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in Richmond, Missouri, along with her younger brothers. Marie was clever and intellectual. She loved reading and thinking about literature. Sensitive to nature, she preferred the country to city life. She was also skilled at running a household, although she longed for something beyond the many domestic tasks she had to take on when her mother became ill and needed her help.
Marie tutored her brothers in preparation for their admission to the University of Missouri. One of her brothers, Charles, became best friends and roomed with Robert Burett Oliver, a law student from Jackson, Missouri. Jackson, Missouri.

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In 1874, Charlie died and Robert began writing Marie’s family. Marie and Robert exchanged letters
Letter from Robert Burett Oliver to Marie Watkins Letters exchanged between Marie Watkins and Robert Burett Oliver, March 9–March 15, 1876.

Letter from Robert Burett Oliver to Marie Watkins, page 1.

[[Oliver Family, Papers, 1805–1977 (C3731), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
Letter from Robert Burett Oliver to Marie Watkins Letters exchanged between Marie Watkins and Robert Burett Oliver, March 9–March 15, 1876.

Letter from Robert Burett Oliver to Marie Watkins, page 2.

[[Oliver Family, Papers, 1805–1977 (C3731), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
Letter from Robert Burett Oliver to Marie Watkins Letters exchanged between Marie Watkins and Robert Burett Oliver, March 9–March 15, 1876.

Letter from Robert Burett Oliver to Marie Watkins, page 3.

[[Oliver Family, Papers, 1805–1977 (C3731), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
Letter from Marie Watkins to Robert Burett Oliver Letters exchanged between Marie Watkins and Robert Burett Oliver, March 9–March 15, 1876.

Letter from Marie Watkins to Robert Burett Oliver

[Oliver Family, Papers, 1805–1977 (C3731), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
for two years before meeting in October 1876 during a visit to St. Louis. A strong affection grew between them.
Marie Oliver Marie Oliver Marie Watkins Oliver

[Oliver Family, Papers, 1805–1977 (C3731), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]

After a long courtship and engagement, Marie Watkins and Robert Burett Oliver were married at Westover on December 10, 1879. Marie moved with her husband to Jackson, where he worked as a lawyer and was elected to the Missouri Senate in 1882. For the next seventeen years, the Olivers lived and raised their family The 1880 census of Cape Girardeau County lists Robert B. Oliver as age 29 and Marie W. Oliver as age 23, which is incorrect. Born after this census was taken, the names of the Oliver children were Robert Burett Jr., John Byrd, Allen Laws, William Palmer, Charles Watkins, and Marie Marguerite.

[Tenth Census of the United States, Population Schedule, “Cape Girardeau County, Missouri”]
of five boys and one girl in Jackson. It was during these years that Marie Oliver began volunteering in her community.


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Designing the Flag

Riverfront, Cape Girardeau Riverfront, Cape Girardeau Riverfront, Cape Girardeau, not dated.

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In 1896, Marie Oliver moved once again, this time to nearby Cape Girardeau where her husband established his law firm. They built and lived in a home they named Oliver Heights. In 1904, Oliver joined the Daughters of the American Revolution
The Daughters of the American Revolution is a non-profit, women’s service organization for the descendants of individuals who aided in achieving American independence. The DAR was founded in 1890 and is dedicated to “promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.”

Marie Watkins Oliver joined the Nancy Hunter Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Cape Girardeau in 1904. In 1907 she was elected state DAR vice regent.
(DAR), a national organization with local chapters. In 1908, Oliver’s volunteer activities took an historically important turn. The state DAR noticed that Missouri did not have an official flag. Though the state seal, The Missouri State Seal.

The Great Seal of the State of Missouri was officially adopted by the General Assembly on January 11, 1822. Congressman and Judge Robert William Wells designed the seal. The center contains the bald eagle symbol of the nation on the right side and, on the left, symbols representing the state. A grizzly bear represents strength and bravery; a crescent moon represents the newness of statehood and the potential for growth. Surrounding these symbols is the motto “United we stand, divided we fall.” Two grizzly bears support the center shield. A scroll carries the state motto, “Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto,” or “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” Missouri’s date of statehood, 1820, is placed in Roman numerals below the scroll. The large star at the top, surrounded by twenty three smaller stars, stands for Missouri’s status as the twenty-fourth state. The cloud around the star represents the problems Missouri had in becoming a state.

[Office of the Missouri Secretary of State]
which contains the Missouri coat of arms, had been officially adopted in 1822, there was still no official flag. The DAR appointed Oliver chairperson of the committee to research and design a flag for Missouri.
The Oliver flag The Oliver flag The Oliver flag became the official flag of Missouri in 1913.

Marie Oliver described her flag design as follows: “The design I offer embraces all the colors of the national flag—red, white and blue—which recognizes that the State of Missouri is a part and parcel of the Federal Government. At the same time it represents the state as possessing a local independence, a local self-government, but in perfect harmony with the great national compact as shown by the mingling of the colors red, white and blue, on every side of it. The coat-of-arms of the state is in the center of the national colors and represents Missouri as she is—the geographical center of the nation. The twenty-four stars on the blue band encircling the coat-of-arms signifies that Missouri was the twenty-fourth state admitted into the Union of States. The blue in the flag signifies vigilance, permanency and justice; the red, valor; and the white, purity.” [Dains, Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies, v. 1, p. 258.]

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Devoted to her task, Oliver wrote to the secretaries of state of every state and territory in the union, seeking information about how other states had designed their flags and had them officially adopted. Once she had gathered enough information, Oliver designed a flag that she thought would represent Missouri. She worked her design around the Missouri coat of arms.

Marie Oliver then asked her friend Mary Kochtitzky, an artist from Cape Girardeau, to paint a flag showing her design. This paper flag was brought to the State Capitol for viewing in 1908. After drafting a bill to have the flag made the official flag of Missouri, Robert Burett Oliver sent the bill to his nephew, Senator Arthur L. Oliver, Arthur L. Oliver (1879–1928).

Arthur L. Oliver, nephew of Robert Burett and Marie Watkins Oliver, was elected to serve as state representative for Pemiscot County in 1904 and 1906. He was elected senator for the Twenty-third District in 1908.

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who introduced it in the Missouri Senate on March 17, 1909. The bill passed in the Senate but failed to pass in the House of Representatives. Senator Oliver reintroduced the bill two years later. Again, it passed in the Senate but failed in the House because the General Assembly was considering another flag design. The competing flag, known as the “Holcomb flag,” was designed by Dr. G. H. Holcomb. Many people opposed the “Holcomb flag” because it looked too similar to the United States flag and did not show Missouri as an independent state.

Disaster struck in 1911. The Missouri State Capitol burned, destroying Oliver’s original paper flag. Oliver and another woman, Mrs. S. D. MacFarland, worked together to sew a second flag. This one was made of silk. On January 21, 1913, the Oliver Flag Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. It passed on March 7 and was quickly signed by the Senate, which sent it directly to the governor. Governor Elliott Woolfolk Major Governor Elliott Woolfolk Major (1864–1949).

Elliott Woolfolk Major was a lawyer and a politician from Pike County, Missouri. He was born in Edgewood, Lincoln County, Missouri, on October 20, 1864. He was elected to the Missouri Senate in 1896 and served during the 1897 and 1899 sessions of the legislature. Major was the state’s attorney general from 1909–1913, and was elected governor on the Democratic ticket in 1912. He served one term and was instrumental in promoting construction of the new state capitol building. He died on July 9, 1949, in Eureka, Missouri, and is buried at the City Cemetery at Bowling Green, Missouri.

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signed the bill, making the Oliver flag the official flag of Missouri on March 22, 1913.

Allen Oliver presents the flag Allen Oliver presents the flag Allen L. Oliver (right), son of Marie and Robert, presented his mother’s silk flag to Governor John Montgomery Dalton (center) in 1961. Also pictured at left is then Secretary of State Warren E. Hearnes, who followed Dalton as governor in 1965.

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For many years, Marie Oliver kept the silk flag in a drawer in her home. She would take it out and proudly show it to interested people. In 1961, her son Allen gave the silk flag to the State of Missouri. The flag was on public display for many years, until it began to show signs of disintegration and was put into storage. In 1988, on the flag's 75th birthday, elementary students from around the state raised enough money to restore the flag. The restored flag is now on display in the James C. Kirkpatrick State Information Center in Jefferson City.


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Oliver’s Legacy

Marie Watkins Oliver Marie Watkins Oliver Marie Watkins Oliver standing behind the original Missouri State Flag she designed, circa 1943.

[SHS 014634]

Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver created an attractive and symbolically appropriate flag for the State of Missouri. She died, ten years after her husband, on October 18, 1944, in Cape Girardeau. In her own words, she had lived “a full, fruitful and very worthwhile life.” She is buried in Lorimer Cemetery in Cape Girardeau.


Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Valerie Kemp and Jillian Hartke

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.; and MSIP equity in gender and racial/ethnic awareness.

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References and Resources

For more information about Marie Watkins Oliver's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Marie Watkins Oliver in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets.


  • Articles from the Missouri Historical Review
  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • “Flag a Symbol of Family’s Legacy; Designer’s Descendant Presented with Banner.” Columbia Daily Tribune. May 25, 2005. p. 16A.
    • “Mrs. Oliver Passes Away.” Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian. October 18, 1944. p. 1.
    • “This is State Pride Week; Much History Recalled.” Jefferson City Tribune. March 26, 1925. p. 4.
  • Books
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography.. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 583-584. [REF F508 D561]
    • Dains, Mary K., ed. Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989. v. 1, p. 258. [REF F508 Sh82 v.1]
    • Laws of Missouri Passed at the Session of the Forty-Seventh General Assembly which convened at the City of Jefferson, Wednesday, January 8, 1913. Jefferson City: Hugh Stephens Printing Co. pp. 349-351. [REF M345.21 M691 1913]
    • Trout, Carlynn. Notable Women of Missouri. Columbia, MO: Columbia, Missouri Branch of the American Association of University Women in Partnership with Eugene Field Elementary School, Columbia, MO, 2005. pp. 25-26. [REF F508 T758 2005]
    • Waal, Carla, and Barbara Oliver Korner. Hardship and Hope: Missouri Women Writing About Their Lives 1820-1920. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997. pp. 117-131. [REF F508 W111]
    • Watkins, Marie Oliver, and Helen Hamacher Watkins. “Tearin’ Through the Wilderness”: Missouri Pioneer Episodes, 1822–1885, and Genealogy of the Watkins Family of Virginia and Missouri. Charleston, WV: Mathews Printing and Lithography Co., 1957. [REF F508.2 W328W]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Oliver Family, Papers, 1805-1977 (C3731)
      This collection contains the papers of the Oliver family of Cape Girardeau, MO. The material includes family and professional correspondence, legal firm records, family financial and legal records, speeches and writings, genealogical materials, and photographs, as well as information on patriotic organizations, the Missouri State Normal School, and First Presbyterian Church of Cape Girardeau.
    • Watkins, Marie Oliver (1885-1959), Papers, 1822-1962 (C2689)
      These papers contain genealogical research compiled in preparation for the publication of the book “Tearin' Through the Wilderness”: Missouri Pioneer Episodes, 1822-1885 by Marie Oliver Watkins and Helen Hamacher Buchanan Watkins. This genealogy traces the descendants of Charles Allen Watkins and Henrietta Rives of Virginia and Ray County, Missouri.

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's Website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following Websites:
  • The Olivers
    This Website hosted by the Jackson Heritage Association, includes information on both Marie Oliver and her husband, Robert Burett Oliver.
  • The Missouri State Flag
    This site offers information on Missouri’s flag and all 49 other state flags.
  • “History of Missouri Flag”
    This site offers Allen L. Oliver’s “History of Missouri Flag,” a detailed account of his mother and father’s involvement in the creation and adoption of the Missouri flag.


Historic Missourians: Marie Watkins Oliver
Marie Watkins Oliver (1854 – 1944) Marie Watkins Oliver (1854 – 1944)

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Marie Watkins Oliver


Born: January 11, 1854
Died: October 18, 1944 (age 90)
Categories: Leaders & Activists, Women
Regions of Missouri: Northwest, Southeast
Missouri County: Ray

Marie Watkins Oliver's Signature