The fascinating tale of Betsy Ross, from sewing Washington’s bed linens to Nike controversy

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She was a single mother and a businesswoman. She was widowed twice before the age of 30 and crafted the bed linens George Washington slept on at Mount Vernon. Like many women during the American Revolution, Betsy Ross was just trying to get by. So she made flags.

The legend of Betsy Ross has captivated Americans for more than a century. She is credited with making the first American flag. Whether or not she really did, she is undoubtedly one of the few female figures to feature in Revolutionary War history.

By telling her story, Ross’s descendants cast light on the life of a woman who lived during a time when women were largely left out of the history books.

Her flag became the subject of controversy this week as we celebrate America’s independence: Nike halted the sale and production of sneakers that sport the Betsy Ross flag after former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick — a Nike spokesman — told the company the design was offensive, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The flag has been used at times by white-supremacist groups that idolize the period in American history when power was exclusive to white men, and women and people of color had no voice. There are photos of the white-supremacist group Aryan Nations using the flag in the 1980s, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, though Nazi symbols and the Confederate flag are used more often than the original 13-star banner.


Word has it that a group of men, including Washington and John Ross’s uncle, visited Betsy in an upholstery shop and commissioned the original American flag. It was to be red, white and blue — that much hasn’t changed. But instead of 50 stars, there were only 13, one for each colony, organized in a circle.

According to the story published in some elementary school history books, Ross told Washington to revise the number of points on each star from six to five. As a “craftswoman,” Ross probably told Washington “that five-pointed stars were more practical, from a production standpoint, than the six-pointed stars he initially envisioned,” Marla Miller, a historian at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told The Washington Post.

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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