Episode 148: Marla Miller, Betsy Ross

How did everyday men and women experience life in the colonial America?

How did the American Revolution transform their work and personal lives?

Marla Miller, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the author of Betsy Ross and the Making of America, guides us through the life of Betsy Ross with an aim to help us answer these questions.

This episode originally posted as Episode 050.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with an historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

Marla Miller, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and author of Betsy Ross and the Making of America, leads us on an exploration of the life and times of Betsy Grissom Ross Ashbury Claypoole, the woman we remember as sewing the first flag of the United States.

During our exploration, Marla reveals what it was like for Betsy and other men and women to work in an 18th-century upholstery shop; How Betsy Ross experienced the War for Independence; And, whether Betsy Ross sewed the first flag of the United States of America.

What You’ll Discover

  • Why it took historians until 2010 to write a biography of Betsy Ross
  • Details about Betsy Ross’ childhood
  • Apprenticeships for early American girls
  • Why Betsy Ross chose to become an upholsterer
  • Work in an 18th-century upholstery shop
  • Goods manufactured in an 18th-century upholstery shop
  • Coverture, a legal status for married women
  • Betsy’s ability to earn wages as an apprentice and craftswoman
  • Betsy Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole’s three husbands
  • Why 18th-century newspapers ads for work done by craftsmen can be misleading
  • How some early Americans made ends meet by taking in boarders
  • Why 19th-century images of Betsy Ross are inaccurate
  • Details about Betsy Ross’ flag-making enterprise for the United States government
  • The role Betsy’s daughters played in her flag-making and upholstery business
  • How the non-importation movement impacted Betsy’s ability to acquire fabrics for her upholstery work
  • How Betsy Ross experienced the violence of the War for Independence
  • The importance of family connections during the War for Independence
  • Whether Betsy Ross made the first United States flag
  • How the women of Philadelphia benefitted from government contracts during the War for Independence
  • Why we should think of Betsy Ross as an artisan when we think about her in relation to flag making
  • How Betsy Ross may have thought about her flag making story
  • New discovery about Betsy Ross’s connection with George Washington
  • The family legend of Betsy Ross
  • How living in Philadelphia affected Betsy Ross’s wartime experience and her experience as an American
  • Economic well being of early American artisans


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Time Warp Question

In your opinion what might have happened if Betsy Ross’ grandsons, William and George Canby had not set out to turn the family stories about their grandmother and her flag making into a national story? Would we remember Betsy Ross and her efforts today? Would we have the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia?

Questions, Comments, Suggestions

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