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— Scott Allison and George Goethals
10 thoughts on “Betsy Ross: The Hero Who (May Have) Sewed the First American Flag”
Hmm. I’m going to have to call you guys on this one. It’s really hard for me to see Betsy Ross as a hero. She was a seamstress. A bunch of revolutionaries asked her to make them a flag. Maybe. She sewed a flag. Maybe. End of story. When you set her beside the founding fathers (Washington, Jefferson, Adams, etc.) her contributions to the formation of the country pale in comparison.
I’d be more likely to view her as a hero if she’d sewn the flag amidst death threats, plagues of locusts, or perhaps the sudden loss of all her fingers. That would have been heroic. Or maybe after she made the flag, she ran down the middle of the street yelling, “F**k the British!” wearing nothing but said flag. That would have been awesome. Just sewing the thing? Eh, not so much.
I’d also like to pick apart something else you said:
“A narrative has evolved naming her as a hero, identifying her as making an important contribution to the country's founding. That's good enough for us.”
A narrative about Besty Ross and her role in the American Revolution has evolved, but when and how do we evaluate the veracity of the narrative? In the case of Betsy Ross, it’s all well and good for people to go along with the general consensus that she created the American flag and revere her accordingly. I don’t think it really makes much difference what the actual facts are surrounding the creation of the first flag. Ancient history and all that.
Betsy Ross is history, but what happens when someone (or a group of someones) begins to create a heroic narrative around the actions of a contemporary? And what if that person is actually a complete scuzzball? I’m thinking of people like Joe McCarthy and Adolph Hitler. Back in the day, many people put both of them up on a pedestal and thereby gave them a platform to to pursue their destructive agendas. Yes, history has demonstrated that they were cruds, but I suspect that even at the time there was evidence that their true agendas weren’t necessarily what was presented to the public.
Although I agree that people need heroes, I think we as a society need to critically examine the heroic narratives that are currently being created for our modern proto-heroes. Failure to recognize a monster in hero’s clothing is to invite disaster. Imagine how different the world would be today if more people in the 1930’s had seen Hitler not as the savior of the German people, but as the monster he really was?
But does a person really have to be in immediate physical danger to be a hero? We have sports heroes who are heroic for doing nothing more than playing a game. Sure, they might get injured, but then again Betsey might have poked her finger with the needle and got an infection.
As for the likes of McCarthy or Hitler, I think the point of the blog is about our notions of heroes not whether they actually deserved that status or not.
It might be a good time for that Columbus posting Scott was talking about elsewhere as a case-in-point.
Well said, Lupine.
Heroism does not require physical danger. Few would deny the heroism of the Founding Fathers, yet most did not serve in the trenches with those who sacrificed life and limb; Jefferson himself was smart enough to withdraw when the British threatened the capital of Virginia, because he knew himself to not be a military man. Betsy Ross was a woman, and in the 18th Century women did not serve in war or congress. Like many, she did her part and suffered her losses. In the pantheon of American heroes– however mythologized or Romanticized– Betsy Ross is a hero.
This is another great essay, Scotty and George.
The idea that Betsy Ross may have sewed the first American flag is definitely significant, its creation came about during a time when people needed some sort of symbol to stand for, I don’t personally think she is a hero for sewing a flag, but more for giving this country something to stand for and protect.
I think Betsy Ross herself is a symbol of American freedom and the ideals that went into the creation of this country. While this blog makes her contributions to the American flag sound minimal, it is hugely important that people during this recognized a woman as the provider of the countries symbol. I think leaders of this era, like Jefferson and Adams, were wise to include a woman among their ranks. I am happy to recognize Betsy Ross as a hero simply for being a female and playing a role in the revolution regardless of how small it may have been.
Regardless of whether Betsy Ross was real or made the flag, she is a hero because the way she is revered by so many. When the blog states that heros are in the eye of the beholder, I think that using Betsy Ross is a perfect example. Clearly many people view her as a hero.
Could you tell me who owns the copyright to this pretty picture of Betsy Ross? Did you have to get permission to use it here?
Marilyn, we found this image at search.creativecommons.org. If you click on the image, you can see its source. According to the wikimedia source page, anyone is free to copy, distribute, and transmit the image as long as it is properly attributed back to its source. Best regards. Scott Allison
It is an interesting point that whether Betsy Ross actually sewed the first American flag does not actually affect her hero status. It would seem like a person’s actions would be the most important factor in being a hero, but in the case of Betsy Ross, it shows us that the observer can be just as important.
I love Betsy Ross. Even if she did not make the first flag, and even if the visit by George Washington never happened, Betsy Ross was an example of what many women of her time found as the reality in time of war: widowhood, single motherhood, managing household, and other roles that ONLY a brave woman can do.
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