Benjamin Franklin’s Sister

24 Apr

The New York Times tells a short but powerful story about Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane Mecom.  It is a story that could probably be told of thousands of other women, too, but they didn’t have famous brothers and have been lost to history as a result:

Franklin, who’s on the $100 bill, was the youngest of 10 sons. Nowhere on any legal tender is his sister Jane, the youngest of seven daughters; she never traveled the way to wealth. He was born in 1706, she in 1712. Their father was a Boston candle-maker, scraping by. Massachusetts’ Poor Law required teaching boys to write; the mandate for girls ended at reading. Benny went to school for just two years; Jenny never went at all.

Their lives tell an 18th-century tale of two Americas. Against poverty and ignorance, Franklin prevailed; his sister did not.

But even a woman with such a famous brother couldn’t escape being nearly erased from history:

Jane Mecom died in that house in 1794. Later, during a political moment much like this one, when American politics was animated by self-serving invocations of the founders, her house was demolished to make room for a memorial to Paul Revere.

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