‘Flag ladies’ continue Betsy Ross legacy as museum-worthy Philadelphia flag-makers

By Mikia Muhammad DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

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Embroiderers at Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support continue the flag-making legacy of Betsy Ross and the many needle workers who preceded them, a “flag lady” said during a museum exhibit opening Feb. 17.

Linda Farrell is one of 16 Clothing and Textiles flag room embroiders or “flag ladies,” featured in the Betsy Ross House’s newest exhibit “Historic Threads: 250 Years of Flag Making in Philadelphia.” C&T’s embroiderers are the sole producers of the presidential and vice presidential flags, and other government and military flags.

“I can't put into words the strong emotion that I felt when I saw the exhibit,” Farrell said. “I never imagined that I would one day be standing in the Betsy Ross House, not only as a speaker but as part of the exhibit.”

“Historic Threads” highlights the city’s centuries-long tradition of flag making, introducing museum guests to women like Ross who earned a living stitching flags in independent shops, commercial factories and government warehouses, Betsy Ross House Director Lisa Acker Moulder said.

“Philadelphia-made flags have flown in wars, marked America’s westward expansion and accompanied presidents all over the world,” Moulder said.

As the event coincided with President’s Day weekend, Farrell displayed a presidential flag and described its symbolism while embroider Nereida Rivera stitched a vice presidential flag.

“Each lady puts a little bit of her heart and soul into each flag that comes out of the [flag room,]” Farrell said. “Rest assured as we go on, the pride and passion of the ‘flag ladies’ at the Defense Logistics Agency flag room will carry on the legacy of Betsy Ross, and we will continue to make flags as the ‘Betsy Rosses of the 21st century.’”

In 2014, five of the “flag ladies” made a replica 13-star American flag, now on display at DLA Headquarters in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Oral history credits Ross for making the first American flag, with 13 stars in a field of blue next to 13 red and white stripes, at the request of President George Washington in 1776, according to the Betsy Ross House website.

The Schuylkill Arsenal, a major supplier of military goods and DLA Troop Support’s legacy organization, also employed Ross to make flags in the early 19th century, Moulder said.

“Historic Threads” will be on display at the Betsy Ross House until 2018.