Oregon Focus: State Symbols: Motto

About the State Motto

gold territorial seal with man, ship, plow, beaver, and eagle
A detail from the territorial seal mural at the Oregon State Capitol. The seal features the Latin words for "She Flies With Her Own Wings." (Oregon State Archives Photo)
“She Flies With Her Own Wings” was adopted by the 1987 Legislature as the Oregon state motto. The phrase originated with Judge Jesse Quinn Thornton and was pictured on the territorial seal in Latin: Alis Volat Propriis. The new motto replaces “The Union,” which was adopted in 1957.
The current motto was first adopted in 1854 to honor the independent spirit shown by pioneers who formed the provisional government in the Oregon Country in 1843.
The 1957 legislature approved a change in the motto to "The Union," to link the story of Oregon's past with its place in American history. That history included tremendous tension in the years leading up to Oregon statehood and the Civil War. Most residents of the Oregon Territory sympathized strongly with either the the North or the South. In fact, questions of slavery and the place of African Americans in a new state of Oregon played significant roles in the Oregon Constitutional Convention of 1857 (learn more about the convention). By 1957, the legislature reasoned that time had eased the strong opinions and approved "The Union" as the motto.
Thirty years later, Senate historian Cecil Edwards, Secretary of State Barbara Roberts, and former state Senate President Jason Boe sponsored a bill to change the motto back to “She Flies With Her Own Wings.” Supporters of the bill argued that “She Flies With Her Own Wings” reflected Oregon’s tradition of independence and innovation. Examples of these traits cited by proponents of the change included the bottle bill and the public beach access bill.

Suggestions for Teachers

Ask students to:
Learn about the events surrounding the formation of a provisional government in 1843. Why did that inspire later leaders to honor it with a motto?
Study the period leading up to Oregon statehood and the Civil War. The two events were inextricably linked.

Discuss mottos that children already know: "Keep Oregon Green," "Don't be a Litterbug," "Stop, Look, and Listen," etc. Discuss what a motto is and what role it plays in learning.
Consider whether the current motto is a good one. Should it be replaced? If so, with what?
Think up a motto for the classroom.
Create their own personal motto.
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