** Book of Ages by Jill Lepore


Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin is a very valiant effort at the story of the life of Benjamin Franklin’s younger and beloved sister, and the book of ages of the title is a small, handmade book she created and in which she inscribed the births of the twelve (twelve!) children she bore, and that of their descendants, and their deaths. And the story made me very mad.

It’s very hard to say, two centuries later, whether Jane Franklin was anywhere as intelligent or politically agile as her older brother, but it seems pretty clear that she was very bright, and certainly very hardworking. But she was a girl, which meant no schooling (and her brother, who was famously unable to attend Harvard because of lack of funds, was at least able to seek learning opportunities elsewhere), early marriage to a man who managed only to bankrupt the family, the continuous birthing of the aforementioned twelve children, and the endless caretaking of them and their children, even as most died by early adulthood of tuberculosis and other diseases of the poor.

And despite her witty letters to her brother, the lauded Jane Franklin merited not one line in his autobiography. If that does not propel us in the street to demand equal opportunities for girls, nothing will.

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