Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jane Franklin - One Woman's Story, Almost Forgotten

Have you heard of Jane Franklin
The picture on the cover of the book won't give you a clue. It is a portrait of her granddaughter, painted in 1765. 
No picture of Jane survives.  
The fact that she ever lived would have long been forgotten, had it not been for her older brother, known to the majority of Americans (colonists) of his time and of ours.

I happened to hear the book's author, Jill Lepore, interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air almost a year ago.   I added the title to my "To Read" list, then forgot about it until July when I was searching for a book to take on vacation. Not quite a beach read for our beach vacation to Maui, but I was purposefully looking for a book of substance - about a woman of substance.
The trip to Hawaii was the culmination of my 2-year journey to visit a labyrinth envisioned and/or built by a woman in each state.  I carried their stories with me as I traveled to meet the 50th woman, walk her labyrinth and hear her story.

The power of stories 
Only through listening to women tell their stories 
have I learned how deeply another person's story can impact my own.

All we know of Jane Franklin's story is through Benjamin's letters to her, the few surviving letters of hers to him and other family members, and her Book of Ages, where she recorded the births and deaths of her children. It is surprising that Jane, born in 1712 "when the Massachusetts poor laws required that boys be taught to write and girls to read," learned to write at all. Benjamin taught her, before he ran away from home to write his own story.

While her brother became famous, Jane lived on the edge of poverty with a husband, constantly in debt,  and a total of twelve children, eleven of whom died. She cared for her ailing parents and took in boarders to help with expenses.

                                                    She worked hard, very hard. 
She loved, lost, and lost again. 
She read whenever she could 
and wrote her letters.

No one knows where she was buried. Perhaps near the 20-foot granite obelisk erected for Benjamin in Boston's Granary Burying Ground.

At the end of her book, Jill Lepore quotes Virginia Woolf's essay, "The Art of Biography":

The question now inevitably asks itself, whether the lives of great men only should be recorded. Is not anyone who has lived a life, and left a record of that life, worthy of biography -- the failures as well as the successes, the humble as well as the illustrious? And what is greatness? And what is smallness?

It is Jane herself who answers Virginia's probing questions. In her own hand. In a letter to her brother.

"I am willing to Depart out of it [life] when ever my Grat Benifactor has no farther Use for me.
I know the most Insignificant creature on Earth may be made some Use of in the Scale of Beings, may Touch some Spring."

The first page of Jane's Book of Ages



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