“Behind every great man stands a great woman.”
This podcast was with Vivian Bruce Conger, a professor of the Humanities at Ithaca College, who is interested in Early American History and Women’s History. She is in the midst of writing a book about Deborah Reed Franklin and Sally Franklin Bache. Conger discusses Deborah Reed Franklin’s life, saying that her parents were born in England and met Benjamin Franklin in 1723. Deborah’s mother disapproved of the match, even though they were both enamored with each other. Conger had a great sense of their relationship together; they seemed to have a great, strong, loving, marriage. Their correspondence from letters was Conger’s source base for this claim; saying that they quarreled sometimes through letters just as a married couple would do. Conger called Franklin very controlling about making Deborah being frugal and hardworking. Deborah Franklin was a property mogul, renting it out to people. Sally Franklin Bache had a pretty good relationship with her father but he did not want her to marry Richard Bache; however Deborah really believed in this marriage. It took Benjamin several years before he would write to Richard Bache. Sally Franklin Bache was much more political than her mother, since the Revolution impacted her in a different way. Something interesting said towards the end of the podcast was when Conger said that when Benjamin Franklin was gone, these two women were the faces of Benjamin.
Conger discussed her research about understanding the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and Deborah Reed Franklin. The best way to understand the relationship, according to Conger was reading a medium that we have discussed in class this semester. Conger was able to dissect the letters between the spouses which allowed her to understand the relationship. Just from reading letters, Conger was able to tell that these two were in a very loving relationship that had the spats that most marriages go through, mostly because Benjamin Franklin was a tad over-controlling to put it nicely. I found it fascinating that by reading the letters, Conger was able to understand that aspect of the relationship as well as a few other facts, mainly how independent Deborah Reed Franklin was for that time period. Understanding the importance of letters and their influence on Early American History is quite important for the study of this time period. Since letters were one of the most popular mediums of this time period, it is important for historians, such as ourselves, to delve into them in order to understand and interpret the past. Letters are one of the most important mediums to understand as historians because they give us a personal look into the past.
A couple of other interesting topics that Conger brought up was the fact that she was studying Deborah Reed Franklin because she lived the life of a normal woman of this time period. I agree with the importance that Conger puts on understanding the ordinary people of every time period because historians put so much emphasis on the extraordinary people, most likely because that is where the source-base is, but there needs to be a movement to understand the lives of ordinary people, as that is the majority of the population at that time. The historiography of this idea needs to start with people such as Deborah Reed Franklin, ordinary people whom we can gain access to documents relating to them due to their important relationships they garnered. By doing this, historians will be able to get a better understanding of Early American History as a whole, from every social standing. These two ideas were not the only ideas discussed during this podcast, but they were the ones that sparked my interest the most. Vivian Bruce Conger is a brilliant historian and her insight into the women behind Benjamin Franklin was a fascinating case study and should prove to be a great book.