Barbara Fritchie

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For the play based on this historical character, see Barbara Frietchie.
Barbara Fritchie in 1862

Barbara Fritchie (née Hauer) (December 3, 1766 – December 18, 1862), also known as Barbara Frietchie, and sometimes spelled Frietschie,[1] was a Unionist during the Civil War. She was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and married John Casper Fritchie, a glove maker, on May 6, 1806.


She was a friend of Francis Scott Key and they participated together in a memorial service at Frederick, Maryland, when George Washington died. A central figure in the history of Frederick, she lived in a house that has, in modern times, become a stop on the town's walking tour. According to one story, at the age of 95 she waved the Union flag in the middle of the street to block, or at least antagonize Stonewall Jackson's troops, as they passed through Frederick in the Maryland Campaign. This event is the subject of John Greenleaf Whittier's poem of 1864, Barbara Frietchie. When Winston Churchill passed through Frederick in 1943, with President Roosevelt on their way to Shangra-la (now Camp David), he recited the poem from memory,[2] an excerpt of which follows.

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.
A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman's deed and word;
"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.....

Barbara Fritchie died at the age of 96 and was interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery, in Frederick City, Maryland.

Barbara Fritchie's house in 2006

Barbara Fritchie House and Museum[edit]

The Barbara Fritchie House and Museum is located at 154 West Patrick Street, Frederick, Maryland. It is a 1927 reconstruction, based on the original house, which was washed away during a storm.[3]


One of the Mid-Atlantic states' top ten horse races was named in her honor; it is one of only seven Grade I or Grade II races run in the state of Maryland. The Barbara Fritchie Handicap is an American race for thoroughbred horses, run at Laurel Park Racecourse in Laurel, Maryland each year. A Grade II race, it is open to fillies and mares age three and up, whose owners are willing to race them seven furlongs on the dirt. It offers a purse of $300,000, and has been run since 1952.

Historicity of poem[edit]

The flag incident as described in the poem likely never occurred at the Barbara Fritchie house, although Barbara Fritchie was a Unionist and did have a Union flag. Friends of Barbara Fritchie stated that she shook a Union flag at and insulted Confederate troops, but other neighbors said Barbara Fritchie, over 90 years old, was ill at the time.

The woman who inspired the poem was likely Mary Quantrell who lived on Patrick Street. In addition to confusing Barbara Fritchie with Mary Quantrall, the poem was likely embellished by a distant poet working from second or third hand accounts of the incident and other flag incidents. The Confederate general in the poem most likely was not (Stonewall) Jackson, but another Confederate officer since none of the men with General Jackson that day remembered the incident. Neither Gen. Jackson nor Barbara Fritchie ever commented on the poem; both had died before the poem appeared. Historians and reporters noted other discrepancies between the patriotic poem and witness accounts. [4] [5]


  1. ^ Quynn, Dorothy Mackay, and William Rogers Quynn: Barbara Frietschie. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1942, 45 pp.
  2. ^ Churchill, Winston S. (1950). The Hinge of Fate. The Second World War 4 (Mariner Books ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 711. ISBN 0395410584. 
  3. ^ Frederick News Post, October 2, 2012
  4. ^ McCartney, Robert (September 15, 2012). "Barbara Fritchie didn't wave that flag". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-04-03. 
  5. ^ Jamie Bussey News-Post Staff (1 July 2007). "The many stories of Barbara Fritchie". The Frederick News-Post. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Barbara Fritchie at Wikimedia Commons