Betsy Ross: A Symbol of the Revolutionary Woman



Betsy Ross presenting the first American flag ...

Betsy Ross presenting the first American flag to George Washington, by Edward Percy Moran. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beginning in Kindergarten, American children are taught about how General George Washington asked Betsy Ross to design the first American flag. It was the summer of 1776 and the thirteen colonies had just declared independence from Great Britain so the country needed a flag. Because of this story, Betsy is the most famous woman during the Revolutionary War. Though the legend was started by her grandson fifty years after Betsy died and historians question its authenticity, Betsy represents all the American women who lived during the Revolutionary War.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Griscom was born on January 1, 1752 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Betsy was born to Quaker parents, but was shunned after falling in love with John Ross, a fellow upholster apprentice. After eloping, the couple started their own upholstery shop until John joined the militia. While John was stationed on Philadelphia’s waterfront, gunpowder exploded and killed him. Betsy was now all alone, forced to work days and nights repairing uniforms, making tents, and making blankets for the Continental Army.

The legend says that in the summer of 1776, General George Washington visited Betsy to ask her to design a flag for the new nation. The Continental Congress had come up with a basic design, but Betsy finalized the design by replacing the six-shape stars with five-shape stars because the cloth could be folded and cut out with a single snip. Though there is no proof she created the first flag, there is proof that she was among one of the first women to do so since a receipt shows that the Pennsylvania State Navy Board paid her 15 pounds to sew flags for ships.

In June 1777, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn. In 1780, he was apprehended by the British in 1782 while working as a privateer in the West Indies and died in a British Prison. While her husband was missing, Betsy had to deal with the death of her firstborn daughter right after her second daughter was born. John Claypoole, an old friend, delivered the message of her husband’s death to Ross. The two ended up marrying and having five daughters. Over the next few decades, Betsy  made flags and banners for the nation until her poor eye sight prevented her from sewing. Betsy died on January 20, 1836 at the age of 84.

Though there is no proof that Betsy created the first American Flag (there is also no proof that she didn’t create the first flag) Betsy is still an important part of American history. Betsy demonstrates how hard women had to work to support their family while taking care of the house and raising children. Betsy, like other women during war, lost loved ones due to war but she remained strong and continued to work to support herself and her family. Betsy shows how women have always played a role in American History and will always be there to support the United States during times of war.


Betty Ross

Betsy Ross. biography

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