Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend

Betsy Ross exhibition masthead

Both iconic and controversial, Betsy Ross is one of the best known figures of the American Revolutionary era—and also the least understood.

The story of Betsy Ross and the making of the first American flag was introduced to public audiences by her grandson William Canby in 1870, at a talk before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The legend that grew cast Betsy as a simple seamstress honored by an unexpected chance to contribute to the independence movement. But the real Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole (1752–1836) would not have recognized the Betsy Ross of popular historical imagination.

Among the early flagmakers of the rebellion, Ross also fabricated cartridge cases for American soldiers and was among the most important professional flagmakers of the new republic. She labored for more than five decades as an upholsterer, crafting chair cases and covers and curtains and blinds as well as fabricating thousands of yards of fringe and tassels.

Co-curated by Marla Miller (University of Massachusetts) and Winterthur's Linda Eaton and Katie Knowles, this exhibition revealed the life and work of this celebrated flagmaker and upholsterer and looked at how the legend began.

Marla MillerBetsy Ross and the Making of America: Biography by Marla Miller

Released in spring 2010, Marla Miller's book, Betsy Ross and the Making of America, is the first scholarly biography of the iconic figure. Miller is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and director of the Public History Program there. Find out more about her here.

Hear Miller speak about Betsy Ross in this June 14, 2010, interview with WFCR's Bob Paquette.

cover of Betsy Ross and The Making of AmericaBuy Betsy Ross and the Making of America from Winterthur's Museum Store. Your purchase benefits museum programming.

Exhibition presented by Presented by Dupont

With support from Barr and Jeanne Asplundh, Louisa Jones, Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP, Coleman and Susan Townsend, Lois and Dick Vieser, and the Wodecroft Foundation.

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