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Little Known Brooklyn Residents: Wilhelmina Carlstedt

Mar 3, 2010 10:21 AM | 1 comment

Up until the age of 99, a local resident known as "Brooklyn's Betsy Ross" designed and handcrafted a series of elaborate flags to spread her message of "Lasting World Peace."

Wilhelmina Carlstedt with one of her peace flags.

Wilhelmina Carlstedt began stitching peace flags with the assistance of her daughter Olga Hesse, from their home on 864 St. John's Place. She began stitching for peace after her two grandsons left home to fight in World War I, and her desire for the "cessation of world hostilities grew daily stronger". She hung the first flag in the window of her home at the time of the Armistice declaration in 1918. Passers by paused to read her hand-stitched messages of peace and to study the symbols in her flag.

On February 12, 1931, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the first peace flag as follows: "In the heart of the flag, which measures 72 by 40 inches on its background of unbleached muslin (the only thing suitable for the purpose obtainable during the wartime period), is a sea of circular blue, symbolic of the world, surmounted by the white dove of peace with an olive branch in its beak. In the narrow circular strip lying between the blue and the broad golden band of friendship is a field of tiny blue forget-me-nots immortalizing the soldiers who gave their all for world peace. The outer circular rim is made up of miniature flags of independent States of the world." An image of one of her flags can be seen at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

Olga Hesse reads thank you letters sent by prominent individuals regarding the peace flags.

Although her grandsons returned home safe from the war, Wilhelmina Carlstedt and her daughter continued to stitch messages of peace onto several more flags over the following decades. Like the Peace Pilgrim who kept walking for peace long after her goal of 25,000 miles had been met, perhaps Wilhelmina also realized that promoting a message of peace is ongoing work. The flags went on to obtain both national and international fame, hanging on walls of state, public platforms, in naval hospitals, and in mission centers. These flags captured the attention of people from around the world, prompting many individuals to write letters of thanks, including Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, the King of Siam, the American Legion, and numerous peace organizations and women's clubs. Wilhelmina Carlstedt continued to stitch flags for peace up until her death in 1942 at the age of 99.



3/5/2010 9:38:23 AM #

Great post!
Beautiful and inspirational story, great pictures too.
We need more people like Wilhelmina Carlstedt and the Peace Pilgrim in the world today. World Peace is something we should all strive for. Thanks to all those people around the world who work for Peace.
Thanks Tara for a thoughtful post.