'Betsy Ross and the Making of America': The rich story of the flag seamstress and Founding Mother
A review of Amherst professor Marla R. Miller's new biography, "Betsy Ross and the Making of America," a richly textured account of the life of the Philadelphia seamstress who created a new American flag for George Washington.
The Associated Press
'Betsy Ross and the Making of America'
by Marla R. Miller
Henry Holt, 480 pp., $30
Every American schoolchild knows the legend of Betsy Ross, the humble Philadelphia seamstress who received a surprise visit from George Washington in the summer of 1776 when the great general and his young nation needed a new flag.
But in "Betsy Ross and the Making of America," the first full-length biography of this beloved figure from the Revolutionary era, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, professor Marla R. Miller shows that Ross' role in creating the original Stars and Stripes, a story handed down from generation to generation within the Ross family, is actually more complex and elusive than the standard version of events might suggest.
A specialist in the history of women's labor in early America, Miller places Ross in a rich context of female industry, Quaker religion and Revolutionary politics, tapping into a growing interest not just in the Founding Fathers but also in the Founding Mothers, including real-life people like Abigail Adams, who exerted significant influence on opinions and events, and semifictional figures like Molly Pitcher, who now play a mostly symbolic role in the narrative of American history.
Ross, an authentic individual whose story is steeped in myth, straddles both categories, and much of the excitement of this book derives from Miller's expert ability to sort fact from fiction, drawing on a wide range of documentary sources to show how Ross and other colonial women contributed to the nation's culture and economy at the dawn of the republic.
Jonathan Lopez is a columnist for Art & Antiques and the author of "The Man Who Made Vermeers," a biography of the forger Han van Meegeren.