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Betsy Ross and the Making of America Hardcover – April 27, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Many Americans accept as true the story of Betsy Ross's role in creating the first American flag. Many modern historians believe the tale is apocryphal. But Miller, an associate professor of history at UMass-Amherst, says the story perpetuated by Ross's family is neither altogether right nor altogether wrong. There is no doubt, Miller says, that the skilled needlewoman was one of Philadelphia's most important flag makers from the Revolution through the War of 1812, and that Ross is important because she offers a unique lens on Philadelphia in that era. Ross's uncles were deeply involved in the Stamp Act protests; a Quaker who left her church to marry her first husband, herself a supporter of the colonies' rebellion, Ross was twice widowed by the Revolution and was married again to a war veteran. The lives of her family members were claimed by the yellow fever epidemic brought by refugees from revolutionary Haiti who flooded Philadelphia in 1793; her artisanal family's prosperity was sacrificed to war and political upheaval. This first-rate biography of Ross (1752–1836) is authoritative and engrossing and goes a long way toward recovering the history of early American women and work. 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)
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From Booklist

Historian Miller moves well beyond the realm of popular biography, reinvigorating a timeworn American icon by placing her firmly into historical and social context. Though most Americans are familiar with the myth of Betsy Ross and the first flag, few are aware of the intimate details of her life or realize how and why her life was both shaped by and reflective of the Revolutionary era. According to the author, the American Revolution was forged by working men and women: artisans, craftspersons, and farmers formed the nucleus of a new nation, and by examining their lives a portrait of a colonial culture precariously teetering on the brink of independence emerges. By turning a keen biographical eye on Betsy Ross, she illuminates the significant role that ordinary citizens—especially women—played in the birth of the new nation. Readers who imagine Ross frozen in one particular time, place, and role will also be fascinated by the details of her life outside and beyond the scope of the Revolution. --Margaret Flanagan
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805082972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805082975
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #662,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 fiction" which "weakens her own historical prose, which is strong enough to stand on its own" and "defeats the ultimate purpose of her book, which is to rediscover the woman behind the legend." Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the fact that, other than books for children, this is the first biography of Betsy Ross ever written. Intrigued enough to buy and read the book despite the poor review.

By the end of the first chapter, I had forgotten about the scathing review and was completely hooked. I literally couldn't put the book down. This was American history as I had never read it before. These were real people and real experiences, not the usual dry recitations of politics and battles and tactics. I never liked American history. I felt it was boring compared to the thousands of years of history of Europe and the Mediterranean. Having been forced in high school to memorize every battle and every general of the Revolutionary War, I subsequently tuned out the following 200 years, learning just enough to pass exams while devoting my spare time to Egyptian pharaohs, Roman emperors and English kings who chopped their wives' heads off. Now that's history.

It is precisely the "sentimental fiction" that makes this book interesting to the general reader.
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Format: Hardcover
Marla Miller has the ability to ignite a passion underfoot for her historical actors and the lives they lived. At times, one almost forgets this is an academic professor writing a heavily researched biography of a woman we all seem to hear about, but no one really knows. Through what must have been many long hours in the archives, Miller weaves together the story of a typical Philadelphia woman coming of age in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Miller's diligent research reveals to us not only the life of this female artisan, working woman, and loving family member. From her writing we also get an understanding of the upholstery trade in early America and how crucial upholsterer's work became as the Patriot cause strengthened. As a demand for flags arose, so did that for tents, army blankets, cots, and various other camp equipage related to the skilled work of a trained upholsterer such as Betsy Ross was in the early years of the rebellion. Betsy's story continues through her personal struggles with religion, the deaths of three husbands and several other close family members, and the establishment of a successful flag-making and upholstery business. We find out that Betsy did make flags, lots of them; but did she make the FIRST flag? I'm not telling! Although Miller's main focus is the actual life-time of Betsy she also addresses the matter of how the flag legend came to be in the mid- to late-nineteenth centuries and the role of family lore in creating a national icon. A good read with an easy, narrative flow, but still packed full of information about a side of Revolutionary America not often explored.
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Format: Hardcover
It may come as a surprise to many that until now, we have had no book-length scholarly biographies of Betsy Ross. The good news is it was worth the wait. Marla R. Miller's masterful work reveals a complex, powerful and passionate woman living through the tumultuous birth of a nation. The woman we know as Betsy Ross was a Quaker who left her church, a Revolutionary, a wife who buried two husbands killed in war, and an artist and business-owner who moved in circles that included the man who would become the nation's first president. She is also, of course, the woman who gave us what may be our nation's single most recognizable symbol. Miller digs deep, carefully peeling away layers of myth to reveal a woman who is more fascinating than anything we might have invented. A rich and well-crafted work, with every page a pleasure.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The legend of Betsy Ross is transfixed in the minds of Americans who have learned her story....a Philadelphia resident who created the first American flag. It's a great story but when reading Marla Miller's new book about Betsy Ross, I came away with the impression that the legend supercedes Ross's own life. There's just not that much there.

In her prologue, author Miller divulges that she is "writing the first scholarly biography of Betsy Ross". Although Betsy Ross makes more than a few cameo appearances, this book has more to do with American life at the time. A book of this nature will naturally rely on "filler" material and on this Miller succeeds. Throughout the book her narrative is swamped with family connections, and I mean swamped...one would need a map to get all those family connections straight. There are several historical inaccuracies...(among them that Monroe succeeded Jefferson, not Madison) which is surprising from one who clearly knows of the era about which she writes.

Marla Miller is best at describing life in America during the Revolutionary War times. Her descriptons about different trades are wonderful and her attention to detail is terrific. I wish she could have edited this book without making Betsy Ross the main subject. A second try would add more pizzazz to what Miller is good at...the flavor of the times she knows well.
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