A vivid portrait of the women who loved, nurtured, and defended America’s famous scientist and founding father.
“An engrossing look at the human side of Benjamin Franklin . . . Using a post-feminist lens that’s critical of gender essentialism, Stuart rescues these women from obscurity . . . This is a terrific read: poignant, provocative, and probing.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review
Everyone knows Benjamin Franklin—the thrifty inventor-statesman of the Revolutionary era—but not about his love life. Poor Richard’s Women (Beacon Press, March 2022) reveals the long-neglected voices of the women Ben loved and lost during his lifelong struggle between passion and prudence. The most prominent among them was Deborah Read Franklin, his common-law wife and partner for forty-four 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.
Weaving detailed historical research with emotional intensity and personal testimony, Nancy Rubin Stuart traces Deborah’s life and those of Ben’s other romantic attachments through their personal correspondence. We are introduced to Margaret Stevenson, the widowed landlady who managed Ben’s life in London; Catherine Ray, the twenty-three-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.
What emerges from Stuart’s pen is a colorful and poignant portrait of women in the age of revolution. 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.
“A fresh perspective on Benjamin Franklin in this revealing study of his relationships with women . . . Stuart paints a nuanced portrait of Deborah and the other women in Franklin’s life, briskly recounts the highlights of his long and varied career, and incisively analyzes the era’s gender dynamics. American history buffs will be fascinated.”
“Stuart has an engaging style and weaves in significant historical context. Readers will encounter illegitimate offspring, broken engagements, long silences, suspicious gifts, eighteenth-century social conventions, and unique and compelling women.”
“A delightful addition to biographies and bookshelves everywhere.”
“Ben Franklin, our enigmatic founding father, continues to fascinate, and in Poor Richard’s Women, Nancy Rubin Stuart gives the women in his life their due, showing them as real persons, with both limitations and achievements, rather than the pathetic, laughable figures so often described in books about him. Poor Richard’s Women is a treat for anyone interested in women of his time or Ben himself.”
—Betty Boyd Caroli, author of Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President
“Nancy Rubin Stuart highlights a side of Ben Franklin too often ignored by historians. . . . Stuart uncovers a man often dependent upon women’s care and support, a man eager to be loved, and a man driven by passions as much as by politics and science. Poor Richard’s Women fills in the blanks of the life we’ve known this founding father to live and provides a necessary reminder that the women who came into his life are as deserving of our attention as Ben himself.”
—Carol Berkin, author of Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence
“Poor Richard’s Women is narrative history at its best, as it offers compelling insights into the character of Benjamin Franklin. Nancy Rubin Stuart rescues Franklin’s women from the margins, making them central to our understanding of a man who fought a never-ending internal battle between ‘prudence and passion.’ Engaging and fascinating, Poor Richard’s Women is a must-read for anyone looking to learn more about the man they thought they knew.”
—Sheila Skemp, author of The Making of a Patriot: Benjamin Franklin at the Cockpit
“[A] fascinating and fast-paced new look at the life of Benjamin Franklin, as told through the colorful prism of the women around him. Nancy Rubin Stuart explores his longest relationships, his fleeting infatuations, and everything in between. She shines a fresh light on old Ben while giving us a new appreciation for the women, who live and breathe in these pages as they haven’t since the eighteenth century. A refreshing read.”
—William Martin, author of Citizen Washington and December ’41