Ben Franklin’s sister

Excellent article by Jill LePore:

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.

Really nice (and depressing) example of the way the circumstances one is born into, even within a single family, profoundly affect life chances. Something Jane herself wrote about, despite her total lack of formal education:

On July 4, 1786, when Jane Mecom was 74, she thought about the path to prosperity. It was the nation’s 10th birthday. She had been reading a book by the Englishman Richard Price. “Dr Price,” she wrote to her brother, “thinks Thousands of Boyles Clarks and Newtons have Probably been lost to the world, and lived and died in Ignorance and meanness, merely for want of being Placed in favourable Situations, and Injoying Proper Advantages.” And then she reminded her brother, gently, of something that he knew, and she knew, about the world in which they lived: “Very few is able to beat thro all Impedements and Arive to any Grat Degre of superiority in Understanding.”

3 thoughts on “Ben Franklin’s sister

  1. 2 years of schooling do not a brilliant inventor make. you can not blame a mere 2 years of school for the fact that ben franklin clearly surpassed his sister. some people are born geniuses. this is not an example of gender discrimination at all. true, women ought to have been allowed to go to school, but you are under the assumption that if ben’s sister had gone to school instead of him then she would have invented the dozens of things instead of ben? preposterous! ben was a genius due to genetics. it could have just as easily gone the other way. it was a coin toss. dumb luck. things like this are why i dislike the idea of feminism. it seems to me, and it’s name supports this, that it’s goal is to tip the scales in the other direction which would be just as equally wrong. if you want equality, why not a more accurate name like equalist?

  2. John, you seem to have decided to dislike “feminism” without knowing much about it. One thing that is clear is that there are a number of different views that fit under the label. Most reflective feminists are also critical of failures of justice and fairness when men encounter them.

    It is almost certainly false that someone is just born with “genius” and can become an inventor without any environmental support at all. Have a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. It is not a perfect book, but it does show one how people who seem simply to have been born with genius in fact were able to use all sorts of environmental aids. Reading and writing seems to have opened worlds for Ben F. His sister did not have that chance. Along with millions and millions of others. That’s all that’s being said.

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