- Created on 10 November 2012
- Last Updated on 11 July 2013
- Written by Michael Regoli
- Hits: 223
The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) supports and promotes the preservation and interpretation of sites and locales that bear witness to women's participation in American life. The Collaborative makes women's contributions to history visible so that all women's experiences and potential are fully valued. Support our efforts by becoming a member. Learn more >
The Betsy Ross House unveils upholstery workshop
- Created on 31 October 2013
- Last Updated on 01 November 2013
- Written by Marla Miller
- Hits: 68
The NCWHS is pleased to welcome a new institutional member, Historic Philadelphia's Betsy Ross House. In the article below, museum director Lisa Acker-Moulder describes an exciting new initiative there, to expand interpretation of women in artisanal trades in Revolutionary Philadelphia. Welcome aboard, and thanks for sharing your exciting new program!
The Betsy Ross House recently created a new living history exhibit designed to further expand visitors’ understanding of Betsy Ross and her work beyond flagmaking. Dressing the Bed (made possible with funding provided by the Coby Foundation, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) takes place in the site’s fully-functional upholstery shop and is staffed by first-person Betsy Ross interpreters.
The research portion of Dressing the Bed (which was complemented by “Recovering the Past: The Upholstery Trade in Colonial Philadelphia,” a gallery exhibit installed to complement the new upholstery shop interpretation) began last spring, with the Betsy Ross House staff and interpreters studying the appropriate styles, techniques and installation. The team was given access to study the collections of extant eighteenth-century bed curtains in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg, Winterthur, Stenton, Wyck, Pennsbury Manor and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The grant-funded project also allowed us to engage the expertise of Linda Eaton, Director of Museum Collections at the Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library, one of the nation’s foremost experts on early American textiles. Building on relationships thickened in 2010 and 2011 when the Winterthur Museum conserved a flag made by Betsy’s daughter Clarissa Wilson, Eaton provided the Betsy Ross House team access to rare eighteenth-century bed curtains. This research will not only benefit the Dressing the Bed project, but it will also enhance our interpretation of Betsy Ross as a professional upholsterer and not just a flag maker.
Stitching on a mock-up valance was completed in August. Work on the bed curtains is expected to take about 18 months to complete, with installation tentatively set for December 2014.
Dressing the Bed features a highly trained, costumed and in-character Betsy Ross interpreter stitching reproduction bed curtains using eighteenth-century hand-sewing techniques and accurate, hand woven, hand dyed reproduction fabrics, while also explaining the work to visitors. All of the labor for this exhibit will be done in public view, and the completed curtains will entirely be the work of the interpreters. When finished, the bed curtains will be installed in Betsy Ross’ bedroom for ongoing display.
The new exhibit presents an opportunity for the House to tell visitors a broader story about Betsy Ross’ life as a tradeswoman, including the economics of the work, the cost, color and texture of colonial cloth, the sewing techniques and designs used by eighteenth-century upholsterers, and contemporary upholsters who may have collaborated with Betsy Ross.
While many visitors come to hear the flag-making story (the Betsy Ross House is one of Philadelphia’s most popular historic attractions, with more than 200,000 visitors annually), others are interested in women’s history and many are fascinated by the work of eighteenth-century upholsterers. By having our Betsy Ross interpreters present in the shop every day, each visitor can have a customized interaction with Betsy suited to what they find most interesting.
We often hear from our visitors that interacting with “Betsy Ross” and learning is the highlight of their experience; interpreting through her the lives of Philadelphia craftswomen more generally through this exhibit on the upholstery trades has proven a great way to draw on interest in Ross to tell a broader story about women, work and the American Revolution.
NCWHS Newsletter, Fall 2013
- Parent Category: About NCWHS
- Created on 22 September 2013
- Last Updated on 04 December 2013
- Written by Marla Miller
- Hits: 247
The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) is looking forward to our Annual Meeting via conference call on October 28, at noon EST (11am Central, 10am Mountain and 9am Pacific). Our featured speaker will be Dr. Eileen Wallis who will discuss “Latina History: Making the Invisible Visible.” Dr. Wallis is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Cal Poly Pomona. Her academic work focuses on women’s history and historic sites, and the American west in the progressive era. Her most recent publication is Earning Power: Women and Work in Los Angeles, 1880-1930, which has been reviewed as follows: “The intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and class are front and center in Eileen Wallis’ important new book on women in Los Angeles workplaces. Not only does her study capture the multicultural West, but also the different development of LA’s economy within the context of Progressive Era reform.”
Pam SanFilippo on C-SPAN
- Parent Category: From the Field
- Created on 22 July 2013
- Last Updated on 22 September 2013
- Written by Marla Miller
- Hits: 391
Earlier this year, NCWHS member and NPS liaison Pam SanFilippo participated in a C-SPAN broadcast exploring the life of First Lady Julia Dent Grant. In the report below she tells us a little bit about the program and shares some reflections on her experience as a panelist:
In February 2013 C-SPAN began a year-long series entitled First Ladies: Influence & Image. The first of its kind on television, the series set out to examine the history of the nation through the eyes of the women who have been closest to the men who held the highest executive office. Each 90-minute live program focuses on a First Lady, with pre-recorded segments at historic sites associated with that individual. Susan Swain, C-SPAN’s Co-President and CEO and host of the First Ladies series, is joined by two panelists each week to discuss and answer phone, Facebook and Twitter questions from viewers about the particular First Lady under discussion.
One of the most interesting developments of the series in regard to women’s history at historic sites came in discussion with the CSPAN staff. They shared with me that at many of the sites they visited, the interpreters, site directors, and curators began to re-think their understanding of the history at that site. Long having focused on the President’s association with the home or property, they were now forced to look at it through the eyes of the First Lady for this program. Many have come away with a new understanding and a desire to revise their interpretation to be inclusive of women’s voices.