Famous for sewing the first U.S. “stars and stripes” flag, Betsy Ross was born Elizabeth Griscom into a middle class Quaker family. Betsy was educated at a Quaker school before being apprenticed to an upholsterer. Betsy married first husband John Ross, a fellow apprentice, and was subsequently “read out” for marrying outside her faith. The Revolutionary War took its toll on the couple: business was difficult because fabrics were in short supply and then John was killed while serving in the Pennsylvania militia. Betsy met and married sea captain Joseph Ashburn, maintained the business and raised the couple’s two daughters while her city and even her home were occupied by the British. Then her husband died in a British prison. Betsy married John Claypoole, a man with serious health problems exacerbated by his stay in that same British prison. The couple were members of the Free Quaker congregation and had 3 daughters. Betsy’s five daughters carried on the upholstery business, a difficult and even tedious trade. During the War, Betsy was said to have sewn the first US “stars and stripes” flag. Once the War was over, America was its own country, Philadelphia was a major port and there was a new market for flags.
Kim Hanley as Betsy Ross is an ultimately successful, if not hugely wealthy, woman able to maintain a business under the most difficult of conditions. This woman, one of the most popular characters in American history books, gained fame she would never have sought as a Quaker woman for creating the first American flag. But Hanley shows us why Ross should be celebrated for being a woman participating in the workforce, for raising 5 daughters, for supporting the Revolutionary Cause. Ms. Hanley helps her audience absorb and relate to the Quaker faith, as well as to understand and appreciate women’s work in the 18th century. Kim Hanley is a gifted costumer and seamstress in her own right and demonstrates Betsy Ross deftly cuting a 5-pointed star. By tracing the American flag’s historical components, Ms. Hanley gives our flag, and our country, its place on the continuum of history.