A colorful portrait of Deborah Read Franklin and the women who together clothed, fed, supported, nursed, and defended her husband, the original “self-made man.”
We can’t seem to get enough of Ben Franklin—a man so confident in his own immortality that he tempted lightning to strike the same place twice. We know all about the key and the kite, the post offices, the libraries, the bifocals, the fire departments, and the almanacs. But what of the woman who raised his children, ran his businesses, built his house, and fought off angry mobs at gunpoint while he traipsed about England? Or, of the widow who Ben lived with in London for many years? Or, of the many other women who contributed to Ben’s life?
Little interest has been paid to these women—most notably Deborah Read Franklin, Ben’s common-law wife and partner for forty-four years. Historians have described her as a “servile rather than…active contributor” to Franklin’s success, “a woman unlikely to accompany his restless mind,” or simply “neither educated nor interesting.” She has been relegated to the role of shrew, nag, and footnoted antagonist to a “great man’s” life. But, as Nancy Rubin Stuart’s account proves, Deborah’s life and the lives of other romantic acquaintances throughout Ben’s life were as complex and compelling as any. Using letters between Deborah and Ben and between Ben and his paramours, Stuart tells the tale of unassuming yet feisty, colonial woman who supported and cared for Ben throughout his life. What emerges is a colorful, poignant portrait of woman erased in history who, in the midst of their own struggles, ultimately achieve an independence rarely enjoyed by women of their time.
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