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The Clipper Girls: A Red Flannel Legend

By  Tanya Eldred, The Cedar Springs Historical Society

 

Nina Babcock (left) and Grace Hamilton (right) working on the newspaper in later years. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

Nina Babcock (left) and Grace Hamilton (right) working on the newspaper in later years. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

If you have lived in or near Cedar Springs in the last 75 years, you have heard the story of how Cedar Springs became the Red Flannel Town—many times.

But do we remember the efforts of the Clipper Girls—Nina Babcock and Grace Hamilton—to get the Red Flannel town on the map?

When they answered the wire from the Associated Press, it was just the beginning. Metropolitan newspapers and the radio took up the cause and spread the word. They received a flood of letters from all over the United States and overseas inquiring about Red Flannel underwear. There was much more publicity than they expected.

In November 1939, Red Flannel Day was a bright spot in a time of war, when people could forget what was looming on the horizon. That year, the town played host to thousands of deer hunters on their way up north to the deer camps. Merchants and clerks wore red shirts or hunting togs and the town was decorated for event. Five men from Grand Rapids chose the Queen from candidates submitted to the Clipper.

Two “big-city gals” Grace Hamilton (left) and Nina Babcock (right) bought the town’s newspaper, The Cedar Springs Clipper, in 1932, and it was 1936 when they put Cedar Springs on the map. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

Two “big-city gals” Grace Hamilton (left) and Nina Babcock (right) bought the town’s newspaper, The Cedar Springs Clipper, in 1932, and it was 1936 when they put Cedar Springs on the map. Photo courtesy CS Historical Society.

After Red Flannel Day, orders for the red flannel underwear were received from as far away as Escanaba and Detroit, and other states such as Maine, Texas, California, Kansas, New York, Alabama, Rhode Island, Florida, and Wyoming, and from Canada and Great Britain.

They answered these and news articles appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Kansas City Star, Detroit News and Free Press, Michigan Tradesman, Atlanta Constitution, Life Magazine, Readers Digest, Independent Woman, and even True Comics.

The Kansas City Star sent a reporter to interview the girls and they were interviewed on National Public Radio.

The Clipper girls helped persuade a young man named Gerald Ford to run for Congress in 1948. As a congressman, Ford attended the Red Flannel Festival 25 times. His bus became a fairly common site on Main Street and the girls were always his faithful supporters. He went on to become Vice President and then President of the United States.

The Clipper Girls worked hard to establish the Red Flannels as a symbol of Cedar Springs. Because of their hard work, Cedar Springs had become known as the Red Flannel Town, which evidently it is not anymore.

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One Response to “The Clipper Girls: A Red Flannel Legend”

  1. I love seeing how people’s decisions have such a lasting impact. It’s am important reminder for all of us.

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