Less than a week after I take a shot at Betsy Ross and her “sewing achievement” (angering more than I expected) comes BETSY ROSS AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, which was reviewed in the Times Sunday Book Review. Serendipity.
The review opens with this paragraph:
Most historians dismiss the story about Betsy Ross making the first American flag. Yet despite a century of debunking, the legend endures. Across the country, schoolchildren still cut out five-pointed stars using the pattern that Ross, a Philadelphia flag maker, supposedly invented. The legend endures because publishers, souvenir sellers and patriotic boosters find it useful and because it fills a void in the American epic. Nations need heroines. Betsy Ross gives women a place in the national pantheon without disrupting our dominant myths.
But according to the review, the tragedy of Betsy Ross (who it turns out was actually Betsy Claypool for most of her adult life) was that although her participation in the creation of the American flag was spurious and questionable at best, “the life of the woman who came to be known as Betsy Ross is worth recovering.”
The myth, it turns out, blurred a life of actual accomplishment and genuine interest.