The Betsy Ross Squad

On the second Saturday of every month, current members of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester Massachusetts gather for a “sewing circle” so members can work on various sewing projects —  costumes for reenactments, ribbon cockades for fundraising, or blocks for Quilts of Valor, a foundation that provides handmade quilts to honor and comfort those touched by war.  Today the house was unusually quiet, with only one Daughter present besides myself.  As my companion worked downstairs fashioning a quilt for a soldier’s homecoming, I wandered from room to room upstairs, almost as if I was waiting . . . maybe hoping, for the ghosts of days gone by to show me what piece of chapter history to bring to light.

My eyes fell upon the 1915 treadle Singer sewing machine that we had pulled from a hallway closet a few weeks prior.   And that’s when I knew what I was looking for.   Same space, different time.  The walls of the very room in which I stood, now filled with a chaotic mess of artifacts and ephemera, spoke of this history from ninety-six years ago:

Newspaper clipping from March of 1918


Betsy Ross Squad Said To Be Only One in Entire Country

Worcester has her Betsy Ross, and Betsy has her squad of flag makers who have designed and made hundreds of American and service flags that float over homes, churches and public buildings in Worcester and other cities.  

The Betsy Ross Squad is composed of members of the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter, D.A.R..  Mrs. Frank B. Hall, former regent of the chapter, is Betsy of the squad and other members are Mrs. Henry B. Johnson, Miss Isabel W. Gordon, Mrs. Charles I. Fowler, Mrs. George W. Batchelder, Mrs. Louis B. Garland, Mrs. William Reed, Mrs. Theodore D. Martin, Mrs. Arthur W. Macomber, Miss Lois O. Paine, Miss Mary E. Whiting, Miss Sara T. Southwick and Mrs. John B. Syme.

A Modern Betsy Ross and Her Squad of Workers Busy at Their Patriotic Task of Making Flags.  L to R: Mrs. William Reed, Mrs. Louis B. Garland, MRs. George W. Batchelder, Mrs. Hall working on the City of Worcester service flag, Mrs. Charles I. Fowler, Miss Isabel W. Gordon and Mrs. Henry B. Johnson

L to R: Mrs. William Reed, Mrs. Louis B. Garland, Mrs. George W. Batchelder, Mrs. Hall working on the City of Worcester service flag, Mrs. Charles I. Fowler, Miss Isabel W. Gordon and Mrs. Henry B. Johnson

Work at the Oaks

Their workshop is The Oaks, the chapter house, 140 Lincoln Street, and there one may hear the whir of machines operated by electricity and foot power and talk of grommets, stars and stripes, blue fields and American colors that never run.  Fridays are reserved for flag days.  Sometimes when business is rushing the Betsy Ross Squad meets Tuesdays for the members to aim to fill orders promptly.  

The making of a big service flag for the city of Worcester is claiming the attention of Betsy Ross and her coworkers at present.  This will have a large heart outlined by stars when it is completed.  The Betsy Ross Squad can point with pride to a record of its work for it has earned about $30 a month for Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter for the last seven months.  This money is used for patriotic activities of the chapter.

The story of the flag makers is really that of the chapter flag, for Mrs. Hall and members of her committee first met to repair the chapter flag and then to make a flag of wool bunting to take the place of an expensive silk model that floated from a pole on its grounds.  The first flag was admired by all who saw it when it was raised and the women that made it were besieged with requests to make other flags.  Then came a demand for service flags and Col. Timothy Bigelow chapter members proved that they were equal to making any kind of flag that any patriotic person ordered.  

The orders came in rapidly and Mrs. Edwin C. Gilman, regent of the chapter, and the executive board decided to give the Betsy Ross Squad the use of the junior room on the second floor of the Oaks for a workshop.  Two foot-power and one electric machine, cutting tables and other equipment needed were furnished and now the flag makers have nearly everything they require for their work.

Enviable Record

The squad has made service and American flags for private families, for lodges, factories, Odd Fellows and Masonic lodges in Worcester and other cities.  It is making a flag for the Brookline Woman’s Club at present and another interesting flag in its workshop shows a Red Cross on one service star and a white star.  The Red Cross is for a nurse in government service and the white star tells of a death of a soldier in her family.

The chapter has two stars on its own service flag.  Mrs. Fred H. Smith is a member who has gone “over there” and MRs. Agnes Smith is in the Red Cross nursing service in America.  She is stationed at Camp Devens at present.

Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter is represented in nearly every branch of war work in which women are engaged and it has made an enviable record among D.A.R. chapters throughout the United States.  It is said to be the only chapter and the only organization of women engaged in making American and service flags.

One of the "Betsy Ross Squad" sewing machines as it looks today, along with a flag made by Mrs. William Reed in 1919.

One of the “Betsy Ross Squad” sewing machines as it looks today, along with an American flag made by Mrs. William Reed in 1918.