Everyone knows Benjamin Franklin — the thrifty inventor-statesman of the Revolutionary era — but not about his love life. The most prominent among them was Deborah Read Franklin, his common-law wife and partner for 44 years.
Long dismissed by historians, she was an independent, politically savvy woman and devoted wife who raised their children, managed his finances, and fought off angry mobs at gunpoint while he traipsed about England.
The new book Poor Richard’s Women: An Intimate Portrait of Benjamin Franklin (Beacon Press, 2022) by Nancy Rubin Stuart looks at the long-neglected voices of the women Ben Franklin loved and lost during his lifelong struggle between passion and prudence.
Weaving detailed historical research with emotional intensity and personal testimony, Nancy Rubin Stuart traces Deborah’s life and those of Ben Franklin’s other romantic attachments through their personal correspondence.
The reader is introduced to Margaret Stevenson, the widowed landlady who managed Ben’s life in London; Catherine Ray, the 23-year-old New Englander with whom he traveled overnight and later exchanged passionate letters; Madame Brillon, the beautiful French musician who flirted shamelessly with him, and the witty Madame Helvetius, who befriended the philosophes of pre-Revolutionary France and brought Ben to his knees.
Set two centuries before the rise of feminism, Poor Richard’s Women depicts the feisty, often-forgotten women dear to Ben’s heart who, despite obstacles, achieved an independence rarely enjoyed by their peers in that era.
The Fraunces Tavern Museum will host a conversation with Nancy Rubin Stuart for a conversation on Poor Richard’s Women, on Thursday, October 6th at 6:30 pm. This lecture will be held both in person and via Zoom. Tickets are $5 for in person attendance, and free for virtual attendance. For more information or to register, click here.
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