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Betsy Ross and the Making of America

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  208 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews

A richly woven biography of the beloved patriot Betsy Ross, and an enthralling portrait of everyday life in Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia

Betsy Ross and the Making of America is the first comprehensively researched and elegantly written biography of one of America's most captivating figures of the Revolutionary War. Drawing on new sources and bringing a fresh, keen e

ebook, 480 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2010)
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May 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Normally when I review a book, I first read the book and write my review, then I read reviews written by other people. In the case of Betsy Ross and the Making of America, my introduction to the book was via a review in the New York Times Book Review dated May 9, 2010. It was not a flattering review. The reviewer, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a professor at Harvard, accuses the author, Marla R. Miller, a professor of American History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, of "sentimental fictio ...more
Jun 29, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
This is one tough book to crack. Instead of being focused on Betsy Ross, it is a portrait of Philadelphia and how the colonies reacted to British authority before and during the American Revolution of 1770's. For the first twenty years of Betsy's life, the book comprises of about 100 pages of the aforementioned history of America with accounts of the extended ancestry of Betsy Ross. It is very wordy, but once a chapter winds down, we get a small morsel of what could have been with an entertainin ...more
May 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Beautifully researched book that attempts to separate the real woman from what may have been a myth. The author provides lots of context for Betsy's life. We follow her through three marriages, seven children, the Revolution, yellow fever epidemics, shunning by the Quakers and the rise and fall of her fortune. Betsy Ross was my great, great, great, great, great aunt and I completely enjoyed getting to know her and other relatives through this book!
Interesting book from the point of view of marketing: it is not about Betsy Ross, and it would have been more accurately titled, "An Economic History of a Philadelphia Luxury-Goods Market in the Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Period." No one would have bought that, of course. The book describes, on the basis of a great deal of historical documentation, the effects of the separation from and battle with Great Britain on one important trade as carried out in one important city. Betsy Ross's ...more
Mar 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a historians that it is a biography written by a historian. This means that though it does serve as a biography of Betsy Ross, Miller has a larger goal. She basically uses what we can piece together about the story of Betsy Ross to tell the story of craftspeople in revolutionary-era Philadelphia, and about late 18th and early 19th century Philly in general. She hopes that Ross's story will be a window into "the working men and women who built early America's cities, furnis ...more
Feb 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a love-hate relationship with this book. Actually, love is too strong a word. And hate is too strong as well. The things I liked about it were the same things that annoyed me about it, but I suppose it depended on my mood.
One thing I liked was that it gave tremendous detail to the intricate lives of Betsy and her family and friends. The author successfully created the environment for us and made it possible to visualize a time that we didn't experience first hand. At times I became annoyed
Carl Williams
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A bit of a disappointment. There isn't much direct primary source information known about Betsy Ross. So this "biography" bounces between family history, tediously written traditional history of Philadelphia during the Revolution, family stories (sometimes critical of them, other times swallowing them whole sale for no clear reason either way), and this kind of chatty, slangy, informal soap opera version of Ross' life that is popular today. "No," I want to tell Marla Miller, "we cannot assume we ...more
Jul 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh,gads, I read a whole lot more than I record on Goodreads. Must take my game to another level...
So, what did I like about this book? Well, it gave a context for Betsy Ross's life for me. She was quite the survivor, and businesswoman--not just someone who may or may not have sewn the first U.S. flag. I had thought (if I'd thought at all about it) she was some genteel wife of an officer in the army, not a woman running a successful business. I like reading history about daily life, and realize I
Jonathan Lopez
Every American schoolchild knows the legend of Betsy Ross, the humble Philadelphia seamstress who received a surprise visit from George Washington in the summer of 1776 when the great general and his young nation needed a new flag.

But in "Betsy Ross and the Making of America," the first full-length biography of this beloved figure from the Revolutionary era, University of Massachusetts, Amherst professor Marla R. Miller shows that Ross' role in creating the original Stars and Stripes, a story ha
This was one of the most challenging books to read I've ever attempted. I got it on a whim from the new books section of my local library and did not realize what a beast I had checked out. It took me a renew and 2 weeks of overdue fines to finish it and I almost gave up, twice.

I'm sort of glad and proud I stuck it out. The book is dense and insanely detailed -- it reads much more like a textbook than a narrative. This is compounded by the fact that women's history is so diaphanous and impermane
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
More social and political history of pre-Revolutionary America than biography of Betsy Ross, since so little of her life can be documented. Her father was a carpenter and she was apprenticed to an upholsterer when young, eventually becoming quite successful. It's an interesting picture of life in the colonies. The upholstery trade encompassed more than it does today, including making mattresses and bed furnishings, the flags and pennants important to a shipping culture, braid and other trimmings ...more
Jun 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, for-work
Fact or Myth: Betsy Ross sewed the first flag of the United States?

Fact or Myth: Betsy Ross improved George Washington's 6-point star design for the United States flag?

Marla Miller dives deep into the historical record to uncover the myths and realities of Betsy Ross.

The tales that we remember about Ross and her contributions to the founding of the United States come largely from the memories of a daughter and grandchildren. Miller uses these recollections as the basis for her inquiry into the
This was a very interesting and well researched book. At times I felt that the author went off subject or dwelt too long or in too much detail on random things like the upholstery industry, the making of tassels, the history of the Quaker religion and even Betsy's ancestors. I do realize though that due to a small amount of existing records and details about Betsy's life the author had to thoroughly research the live's of Betsy's family and acquaintances and the time period in which they lived i ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't understand why this book had so many negative ratings. It is, what it is. The reader needs to understand the history of the time/Philadelphia to understand Betsy Ross/Elizabeth Grishom Ross Ashburn Claypoole. Unfortunately, as the author states, there was not a lot of written documentation about Betsy Ross during her lifetime (or even in her obituary) and what we do "know" was learned from her family many years later. In this biography, Ms Miller attempts to prove the story we have all g ...more
Jun 17, 2013 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Becky by: Marissa via jeffy
Shelves: biography, history
I'm putting this on my to-read list because Jeff sent me this review (and I can't fit this review in the "Private notes" field). I don't often read biographies (I'd rather read a good memoir), but this sounds interesting:

Marissa Lingen raves: "Marla R. Miller, Betsy Ross and the Making of America. This book was probably the big discovery of the fortnight. I’m going around raving about it to everyone. I expected very little of it. It was one of those things that made my library list on the “huh,
Jul 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've reviewed this elsewhere, so I won't write too much here. This is a social/labor history approach to understanding Betsy Ross--the real woman as opposed to the legend that would take hold around her as a powerful symbol in American civil religion from the age of American imperialism through the 20th century, and to a gradually lessening extent, an influential legend still today. It is thorough and thoughtful, and as the author is a leading expert on Revolutionary era female craft workers, sh ...more
Jul 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fabulous book from a historical basis but so detailed and chockful of facts, family relations, etc., that it was difficult reading--thus the four, not five, star rating. The book clearly places Betsy Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole in the middle of the turmoil of a new nation and details how her early flag making became a family business that supported a large extended family well into the next generation as her daughter Clarissa carried on the business. The book covers, too, the role ...more
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am one of those kids who dressed up as Betsy Ross for the Bicentennial parade. Did you know that she probably did NOT design the first American flag, and that --SHOCKING-- it was her grandkids who talked up her legend. OOPS! Did I just give away the ending? Actually, no. It's the premise of this history, which looks at the founding of the U.S. and the creation of Philadelphia through the lens of Betsy Griscom-Ross-Ashbourn-Claypool's life as an upholsterer/flag maker. Read this book and you'll ...more
Catherine Woodman
I started this book feeling like I had read a dozen books on Betsy Ross before, but in reality, this is the first scholarly biography of the woman, and the reason appears to be that there is very little in the written record to go on. So the author compensates for what must remain speculative about her life and her influence by examining what in fact we do know ( which is not nothing) and then what we know about tradeswomen at the time she lived and what Philadelphia was like when she lived ther ...more
Aug 11, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the end I skimmed parts of this lengthy book. In her foreword the author shares the fact that there are no full-length biographies of Betsy Ross for adults, but many for children. Her family capitalized on the legend of Ross and her somewhat foggy connections to the first flag. What is true is that Ross' upholstery shop was a major business in Revolutionary Philadelphia, but there is only a tiny shred of archival evidence connecting her to George Washington. The real Betsy Ross was an interes ...more
Jul 22, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first this book was a bit tedious because of all the names and details involved. As it progressed I admit I skimmed it sometimes, but it is an inspiring story of Betsy Ross, not just a flag maker but a wonderful example of a thinking, productive, ambitious woman, wife and mother. She was a plucky survivor who contributed much in a day by day effort to keep her country and family forging ahead. There is interesting detail of Philadelphia as an emerging city and the craftsmen who began it, the ...more
The Library Lady
I can't give this a bad rating, because it is impeccably researched and has lots of interesting information.

The problem is that Betsy Ross's life is for the most part vaguely documented and there isn't that much to tell for a lot of it. So most of the book is about Betsy Ross's world, and there is endless stuff about the history of the upholstery trade, the Society of Friends, political history. Between that and the fact that there are dozens of people named either Elizabeth or Rebecca, this is
Oct 31, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This biography is incredibly detailed. I read until the author examined the plausibility of Washington and Ross's oft repeated encounter. I found the history and relationship with the Quakers fascinating. Most of the book is centered on the political conflicts leading up to the Revolution, background to the occupation of Upholsterer and a general history of Philadelphia. This was not surprising, seeing as how the author has very little details of Betsy Ross's life to go on. I got bogged down in ...more
Aug 13, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-on-cd
I would call this false advertising!!

Since no good evidence exists regarding betsy's making of the flag, the author instead gives us an American history lesson about events leading up to the Revolutionary War, about Betsy's family history, about period upholstery, and many other things, none of which give us a life story of betsy ross. Perhaps no biographies of her exist because we dont have enough info to write one!

The book was enjoyable for a history lesson & perspective into life in phila
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really did enjoy this book. There was SO much detail it was incredible. If you enjoy history and learning, this is an excellent choice. It is nice to know that strong women really helped in more ways than staying home and being mothers and housewives as we are so often lead to believe - mostly by their omission from history. Betsy's story in history books is usually a brief note regarding her being a seamstress, but she was actually much more, and she lived a very full and amazing life, in spi ...more
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of the strongest books I’ve read on American history—the story of the woman we know as Betsy Ross goes far beyond the flag she may or may not have made, and discusses everything from the role of women in the colonies to early Philadelphia to the lives and works of craftsmen to religion and family life early in this country. Particularly interesting are the occasional notes of what happened after the scope of the book—when buildings were torn down, or how parts of Betsy’s life pop up in other ...more
Sep 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book was more informative than any history class coverage given to Betsy Ross (at least the classes I've taken). I doubt there exists enough remaining historical documentation to piece together a more accurate view of her life. Miller does a good job describing the ebbs and flows of colonial life, including the economic status of Ross and her family. If you like history, then this book will satisfy your curiosity. If you're looking for superb, dramatic storytelling--this isn't the book for ...more
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book to learn about women in the Colonial period. Also a great way to learn about "working women" and the upholstery industry in Philadelphia. It puts into question the story of Betsy Ross and the first flag, but for me, her real story was way more interesting than the "myth". It presents a different perspective of Colonial women, the working class, as oppose to the usual reads about the upper class, the wives of the founding fathers, etc.
Suzanne Jacob
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is excellent if you're a history major. Darn little on the person, Betsy Ross, but lots on Philadelphia of that time. I learned a great deal about the 18th century upholder's (upholstery) business, which is what Betsy did. She wasn't a dress maker (mantua maker), which was a different kind of sewing. The last several chapters did have more on Betsy Ross in her later years, as those years are the most detailed.
Excellent book and one I will keep for reference.
Aug 31, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting read. It was a great look at the life of the actual Betsy Ross, not just the myth that has been created. It was also great to learn more about Colonial Philadelphia and the community of artisans there. It was also a really interesting look at the craft of making furnishing and upholstery in the 18th and early 19th century. I enjoyed learning about this woman who lived an incredible life, whether she was the mother of the American flag or not.
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