"Remember the Ladies" -- Library Speaker Reveal's Ben's Other Side
Statesman, inventor, author, founding father – those are all familiar descriptors for our town’s namesake, Benjamin Franklin. But Thursday evening at the library, the audience heard about another Ben – and his women – from Massachusetts author Nancy Rubin Stuart. Specializing of late in writing about women (a previous work focused on Mercy Otis Warren), her most recent tome, Poor Richard’s Women: Deborah Read and the other women behind the founding father, is an expose of sorts that fleshes out the portrait of one of America’s most talented and original characters.
Rubin Stuart, showing slides of Franklin and his female associates, covered many familiar elements in the Franklin biography but brought into focus other elements largely glossed over or ignored by other historians. For example, when Franklin (married to Deborah back in Philadelphia) was staying in London prior to the Revolution and living with a widowed woman and her daughter, budding American artist Charles Willson Peale was among his circle of friends. One day, Peale “inadvertently” barged into Ben’s quarters and found the great man with an unidentified woman on his lap in a pose of affectionate flirtation, an image he hurriedly sketched on returning to his quarters like a latter day papparazzi. The two extant drawings by Peale, were largely ignored by other historians, but Rubin Stuart shared these and like details to present a Ben Franklin with the highest of ideals, and greatly determined to be better, but not overly successful when it came to his attraction toward women.
To be sure, by the standards of the times he was no libertine, and Rubin Stuart made clear in her talk her admiration for a remarkable man – but one who is now more fully alive when “his” women have been restored to a proper place in his cosmos. And, of course, she tells us much about this interesting women who have gotten too little attention in the past.
Nancy Rubin Stuart’s lecture was made possible with the support of the Friends of the Franklin Library.