Poor Richard’s Women: Deborah Read Franklin and the Other Women Behind the Founding Father

Beacon. Feb. 2022. 224p. ISBN 9780807011300. $27.95. HIST
Journalist Stuart’s (Defiant Brides) new women’s history is an engrossing look at the human side of Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s best-known Founding Fathers. Franklin’s image as a womanizer is fairly well established, but less familiar are the stories of the various women whom he loved, lived with, and courted throughout his life. Using a post-feminist lens that’s critical of gender essentialism, Stuart rescues these women from obscurity, focusing on their lives, emotions, and feelings as much as she strives to understand the complexity of Franklin’s views on love, sexuality, and human relationships. His struggle with both “passion and prudence” is the book’s theme. Its main contribution is its sensitive portrayal of Franklin’s common law wife Deborah Read, with whom he lived for 44 years. Stuart depicts Read as an astute businesswoman and vital support to Franklin; someone who tended to his financial and business interests during his long overseas ventures. Describing his other love affairs against the backdrop of domestic and international politics, Stuart attempts to make sense of Franklin’s complicated and unorthodox attachments by juxtaposing them against statements from his various writings.
VERDICT For lovers of biography, American history, and women’s studies. This is a terrific read: poignant, provocative, and probing.
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