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Useful Notes / Betsy Ross

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By George, it's perfect!

Elizabeth "Betsy" Griscom Ross (January 1, 1752 January 30, 1836) was a seamstress who is traditionally credited with sewing the first American flag. For this reason, the original 13-star U.S. flag is often called, "the Betsy Ross flag."

The popular story goes that one day in 1776, George Washington showed up at her shop in Philadelphia and ordered a flag. In some versions, he already had a design, but she made the suggestion of changing the six-pointed stars into five-pointed stars for ease of mass production. In other more fanciful versions, she designed the flag entirely on her own. But either way, she eventually presented the grateful Washington with a new flag for the new nation.

Historians typically dismiss this story as folklore. To be clear, Betsy Ross was a real person who lived during The American Revolution and did indeed sew flags for the Continental Army. Of course, many other women were engaged in similar work at the time, and the detail of who sewed the first American flag is almost certainly lost to history. The claim that it was Betsy Ross originated decades after her death, when it was promoted by her grandson, William J. Canby. This was around the time of the United States centennial in 1876, putting the American public in the mood for sentimental patriotic stories about the Revolution. Thus, she became a celebrated American heroine, often held up as a patriotic role model for young girls.

In fiction

  • The 1917 silent film Betsy Ross, in which she was played by Alice Brady.
  • Portrayed by Nikki Reed in Sleepy Hollow, in which she not only created the first American flag but was also an Action Girl spy for the Patriot cause.
  • In the Histeria! episode "The Thomas Jefferson Program," Betsy Ross is portrayed by the World's Oldest Woman. She makes the first American flag out of her bloomers, leaving herself in a barrel.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Yankee Doodle Bugs," Bugs Bunny gives Betsy Ross the idea for the stars by stepping on a rake, causing stars to circle around his head.
  • The Beavis and Butt-Head episode "Our Founding Losers" has a Catapult Nightmare where Butt-Head sees what appears to be Betsy, so Butt-Head approaches and tries flirting with her. But it turns out to actually be Beavis, who flirts back.
  • In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon dresses up as Betsy Ross for a "Fun with Flags" episode. When asked what he's sewing, he replies, "I have no idea, because the story of me sewing the first American flag is unsupported poppycock."
  • She appears in the Time Squad episode "Betsy Ross Flies Her Freak Flag," which humorously portrays her as an anachronistic hippie.