Flag Day

Betsy Ross and the Flag

Written By Harry Pringle Ford
(Adapted by Frances Jenkins Olcott)

On the 14th day of June, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the following resolution: "RESOLVED, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."

Prior to this, in 1776, a committee had been appointed to look after the matter. Together with General Washington they called at the house of Betsy Ross, 239 Arch Street, Philadelphia.

Betsy Ross was a young widow of twenty-four. She was supporting herself by continuing the upholstery business of her late husband, John Ross, a patriot who had died in the service of his country. Betsy was known for her exquisite needlework, and was engaged in the flag-making business.

The committee asked her if she thought she could make a flag from a design, a rough drawing of which General Washington showed her. She replied, with diffidence, that she did not know whether she could or not, but would try. She noticed, however, that the star as drawn had six points, and informed the committee that the correct star had but five. They answered that as a great number of stars would be required, the more regular form with six points could be more easily made than one with five.

She responded in a practical way by deftly folding a scrap of paper; then with a single clip of her scissors she displayed a true, symmetrical, five-pointed star.

This decided the committee in her favor. A rough design was left for her use, but she was permitted to make a sample flag according to her own ideas of the arrangement of the stars and the proportions of the stripes and the general form of the whole.

Sometime after its completion it was presented to Congress, and the committee had the pleasure of informing Betsy Ross that her flag was accepted as the Nation's standard.

  • What was the first flag supposed to look like?

  • Where was Betsy Ross from?

  • Why was she a widow?

  • Do you think Betsy believed she could make the flag? Why or why not?

  • Why had the Continental Congress selected a six-pointed star for the flag?

  • How did Betsy prove to the committee that she should be the one to make the flag?

  • How do you think Betsy Ross felt when her flag was accepted as the Nation's standard? How would you feel if you had designed America's first flag?

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