Lewis Lapham: Ben Franklin Left Sister Poor and Obscure

Jill Lepore
Jill Lepore, author of "Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin." Photographer: Dari Michele/Knopf via Bloomberg

At 15, Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister, Jane, got married. He’d helped her learn to read, but she was never a facile writer.

At the same age, young Ben was working on his brother’s paper, the New-England Courant. To get published, he assumed a pen name, becoming the perspicacious widow Silence Dogood.

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In her fortnightly letters, Mrs. Dogood let it be known that she hated hoop skirts, was “a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power” and made scathing remarks about Harvard alumni.

Ben was so convincing as the widow, offers of marriage rolled in. But this was just the beginning -- he went on to become the most famous American on the planet.

Poor and obscure, Jane had a dozen children and didn’t leave her small domestic circle. Ben never mentioned her in his autobiography.

I spoke with Jill Lepore, author of “Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin,” on the following topics:

1. Reading & Writing.

2. A Room of One’s Own.

3. Revolutionary Widow.

4. Correspondence.

5. Book of Ages.

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

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