In Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, Jill Lepore tells the story of Ben Franklin’s little sister. “Benny and Jenny” exchanged letters for more than 60 years. Jane also kept a book recording the birth of her 12 children — and the eventual deaths of 11 of them.
Despite her intelligence and ingenuity, Jane’s life was “as grinding as Ben’s was glorious,” writes Lisa Hansel on Core Knowledge blog. Jane had little opportunity to learn because of her sex, writes Hansel. Many believed in women’s “innate and inexorable lack of rational, scholarly, or political abilities.”
Lepore excerpts a 1790 essay by Judith Sargent Murray, which observes that a two-year boy is not “more sage” than a two-year-old girl.
But from that period what partiality! how is the one exalted, and the other depressed, by the contrary modes of education which are adopted! the one is taught to aspire, and the other is early confined and limitted. As their years increase, the sister must be wholly domesticated, while the brother is led by the hand through all the flowery paths of science. Grant that their minds are by nature equal, yet who shall wonder at the apparent superiority, if indeed custom becomes second nature; nay if it taketh the place of nature, and that it doth the experience of each day will evince. (Lepore quoting Murray, page 230)
Imagine the lives of a siblings born in 2014, one raised in a low-income family, the other by high-income parents, Hansel writes. “For century upon century, women were undereducated and assumed incapable. I wonder, how many of our least advantaged youth, like Tony, are suffering that same fate today?”