Remembering David O. Brownwood


All at Benjamin Franklin House were deeply saddened to learn of the death of our friend and supporter David O. Brownwood, the first Chair of the US Benjamin Franklin House Foundation.

David received his A.B. with distinction from Stanford University in 1956 and went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot in the Air Defense Command until 1961. Flying remained a passion for David, even after his active duty. He attended Harvard Law School, receiving his LL.B. magna cum laude in 1964. From 1966 to 1967, he taught law at the University of Khartoum in the Sudan and from 1967 to 1968 at the Kenya Institute of Administration. Upon returning to the United States, he joined the New York-based law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore LLP and became a partner in 1973, focusing his practice on corporate finance, becoming Senior Counsel in 2003.

David was always insightful, effective, warm, encouraging and kind.  He will be deeply missed.  We extend our sympathy to his wife Bo, his children and grandchildren.

A Quiet Revolution: Exploring 18th-Century Women’s Education through Sally Franklin and Polly Stevenson

The eighteenth century was a period of great change in many aspects, one of which was women’s education. The Enlightenment ignited the idea that men and women were created equal, though assigned to different responsibilities1. While women’s sphere of influence was still limited to mostly motherhood and domestic duties, there developed a greater sense of value of these roles, and the work women could do within these spheres expanded. The influence mothers had over their children, particularly sons, was seen as a powerful force, and so women began receiving a wider education to better train the next generation of leaders and statesmen2. Both Mary “Polly” Stevenson Hewson and Sarah “Sally” Franklin Bache carefully mastered challenging the status quo for women’s roles, all without ever causing a stir for leaving the female domain. Both women used their education to bring many traditionally-male duties into the feminine sphere and claim them as their own. 

The typical education for a middle-to-upper class girl of the eighteenth century would encompass several disciplines, almost always taught at home by their mothers to prepare them for a life centred around the family and domestic duties3. Included in this curriculum was the traditionally feminine needlework, which was a practical skill as well as a beautifying one–it provided a way to demonstrate their refined tastes, but also meant that clothes could be mended instead of purchased new and served also as a means of income4. Polly was evidently a skilled knitter, as Franklin thanked her in a 1759 letter for a pair of garters, which he called “the finest, neatest and prettiest that were ever made!”5. Franklin was less complimentary of Sally’s work, though he often encouraged her to “spin & knit your Family Stockings,”6 frequently hoping she would contribute to the Franklin home’s domestic economy. Another key component of typical female education was reading, especially religious materials to perfect their moral development7. This was one of Franklin’s main focuses for Sally’s early education, writing to his wife that “I hope she continues to love going to Church, and would have her read over and over again the whole Duty of Man and the Lady’s Library”8. The Whole Duty of Man was an Anglican devotional book, and The Lady’s Library was probably an anthology of moral readings9; both works were likely meant to produce a Christian and feminine disposition. Both women may have also read women’s periodicals, such as The Lady’s Magazine, which covered secular subjects like fashion, romance, and education10.

A portrait of Sally Franklin.

Sally (1743-1808) was Franklin’s daughter. She stayed behind in the American colonies with her mother, Deborah, while Franklin was abroad in London for 16 years.

While Franklin certainly advocated for the components of a traditional female education for Sally in her teens, it seems that her studies may have had more of a radical start. In 1751, when Sally was eight years old, Deborah wrote a letter to Margaret Strahan ordering a set of books requested by Franklin to begin his daughter’s education. The curriculum included “1 Doz of Fomiliar Formes [sic.] Latin and Eng,”  “1 Boyles Pliny,” and “6 Sets of Nature Displayd in 7 Volums [sic.],”11. These works prove that Sally was intended to learn Latin, philosophy, and some elements of biology, all of which were certainly not on the syllabus for the typical 18th-century girl, as these subjects were decidedly reserved for the male sphere. It does not seem, however, that the Franklins stuck to this revolutionary approach to Sally’s education, as by her early teens, there are no documented references to her study of any of these subjects. It seems instead that she diverted to the traditionally-female track of education, with studies of religion, French, and harpsichord12. It is unknown why her curriculum might have seen such a drastic shift, but it might have been due to Franklin’s frustrations with her progress. When Sally was thirteen years old, Franklin wrote to Deborah: “I should have read Sally’s French Letter with more Pleasure, but that I thought the French rather too good to be all her own Composing. I suppose her Master must have corrected it,”13. Franklin was evidently sceptical of his daughter’s abilities. Throughout Sally’s upbringing, Franklin seemed to be doubtful and critical towards her learning, often correcting her spelling or censuring her work ethic. He did, however, consistently encourage her to learn household accounting and arithmetic which, though intended for domestic use, were traditionally skills included in a male curriculum. It seemed that instead of an academic, Franklin saw Sally’s role as a future wife and mother, often reminding her to focus on these skills as “it is of the more Importance for you to think seriously of this, as you may have a Number of Children to educate”14.

While Sally embraced these domestic roles, marrying Richard Bache in 1767 and bearing eight children, she also used the practical skills acquired in her education to become a political activist. A patriot, Sally became a key member of the Ladies Association of Philadelphia, raising funds to support the American Revolution and organising an effort to sew over two-thousand shirts for soldiers at Valley Forge15. While for most of her life Sally, like most eighteenth-century women, was designated training to become a mistress of domestic duties, she pulled her skills of needlework, organisation, and management out of the home and used them in the male-dominated political world. Utilising the arts that society permitted to women, Sally’s tactic was not inflammatory or blatantly disruptive to the gender norms, but it allowed her to lead a quiet revolution by expanding feminine skills out of the home and into a politically-fraught war.

Polly Stevenson’s educational background before her introduction to Franklin at age eighteen is relatively unknown. Due to her situation in life and proficiency at writing and needlework, as evidenced through her letters to Franklin, it can be assumed that she had at least a similar traditional home education to Sally. Polly, unlike Franklin’s daughter, had great interest in academic subjects like philosophy, engineering, and natural science; in 1760, at age twenty-one, Polly asked Franklin to tutor her in these subjects in their correspondence. Franklin agreed, but questioned her motivation, asking, “but why will you, by the Cultivation of your Mind, make yourself still more amiable, and a more desirable Companion for a Man of Understanding, when you are determin’d, as I hear, to live Single?”16 As he did with Sally, Franklin saw a woman’s education as a training for life as a wife or mother, fearing that this extensive course of study had no purpose if Polly did not use it as a means to catch an academically-inclined husband.

A portrait of Polly Stevenson.

Polly (1739-1795) was the daughter of Franklin’s landlady in London. She was like an adopted daughter to Franklin and corresponded with him for the rest of his life.

He later seemed to change his mind, admiring Polly’s scholastic aptitude and appreciation of learning: “After writing 6 Folio Pages of Philosophy to a young Girl, is it necessary to finish such a Letter with a Compliment? Is not such a Letter of itself a Compliment? Does it not say, she has a Mind thirsty after Knowledge, and capable of receiving it; and that the most agreable Things one can write to her are those that tend to the Improvement of her Understanding?”17 Polly led her course of study for the most part, with Franklin initiating only a brief survey of French philosophy18. Polly inquired about and studied entomology, geothermal heating, gravity, the tidal patterns of rivers, the distillation of salt water, the electrification of storm clouds, the polarisation of water molecules, and pathology.

Perhaps this final interest provided the connection with her later-husband, anatomist William Hewson. Polly wrote to Franklin, “I met with a very sensible Physician [Hewson] yesterday, who prescribes Abstinence for the Cure of Consumption. He must be clever because he thinks as we do”19. It is revealed in her second sentence that Polly views herself as a scientist of her own right, an equal to both Franklin and Hewson. Despite not being offered formal opportunities to train in science, by seeking out Franklin as a mentor, Polly created her own way of studying the subject in a way that would not upset the societal gender norms. Through her marriage to Hewson, she was able to bring the sciences into the household sphere; her husband opened a school of comparative and human anatomy at their 36 Craven Street home. While there exist no records proving Polly’s direct interaction with the school, it is difficult to believe that such an inquisitive and scientific mind would have never watched the operations or engaged with her husband’s theories on haematology when these many experiments took place under her own roof. Perhaps Polly used society’s prescription of marriage as a way to bring scientific study into her own sphere of access.

Franklin’s close involvement in supervising the education of both young women was highly unusual for the eighteenth-century, as the role was typically reserved for mothers to impart domestic skills on their daughters. While he still subscribed to the idea of Republican Motherhood–that their educations were a training only to be excellent wives and to educate their own sons one day–Franklin was a proponent of expanding the realm of education for women, as seen in his studying sciences with Polly and originally assigning Sally a curriculum of Latin and philosophy. Sally and Polly, however, were the opportunists who each saw a chance to challenge what they could do with their education. Sally brought her skills from the home into the male political sphere as an activist, and Polly brought the male scientific sphere into her home as the wife to a physician. Both women were able to cleverly subvert the societal prescriptions for women’s roles, by delicately merging the education of a homemaker with traditionally-male spheres.

By Emily Anne Harris



Frankly Speaking 2023

Ben’s Birthday Bash!

Literary Prize 2022 Shortlist

Parties, Cakes & Mistletoe: A Georgian Christmas

“A good conscience is a continual Christmas” – Benjamin Franklin

Read on as we explore the Georgian Christmas practices of holiday cakes, large parties, mistletoe décor, and other beloved Christmas traditions that Benjamin Franklin and the residents of 36 Craven Street likely enjoyed.

How did Benjamin Franklin and the residents of 36 Craven Street celebrate the Christmas season?

After Christmas’s banishment from English society in 1644 by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, Christmas did not regain its place as one of the most beloved holidays in English society until the Georgian and Victorian eras.  Georgian Christmas was a time of balls, parties, courtship, and family gatherings that stretched from December 6th (St Nicholas Day) to January 6th (Twelfth Night).

English gentry spent their Christmas season in country estates and houses, while the rest of English society enjoyed a day from work as Christmas was a national holiday. Christmas day would be spent at church before indulging in a lavish or hearty Christmas meal full of traditional foods. Typically Christmas meals served goose, turkey, or venison depending on social class and financial status followed by a Christmas pudding, mimicking King George I’s first Christmas dinner which served plum pudding in 1714. Mince Pies would accompany the Christmas meal but, unlike today, these would be semi-savoury and made from ground meat, normally beef or tongue, with sweet currants. 

On the 26th, St Stephen’s Day, the staff would have the day off whilst the household would recover from the food and drinks. People would donate to charity and the upper classes would gift their staff Christmas Boxes, which is where the term Boxing Day comes from (first used in the 1830s).

Decorating for Georgian Christmastime

All social classes would decorate their homes with traditional decorations such as evergreens, fruits and ribbons. This was not done until Christmas Eve, however, because it was considered unlucky to decorate before then. Kissing boughs and balls were also popular, usually made from holly, ivy, mistletoe and rosemary and decorated with spices, apples, oranges, candles or ribbons. In very religious households,  families did not use mistletoe due to its scandalous connotations!

A cosy fire was an important component of Georgian Christmas. A Yule log, chosen on Christmas Eve and wrapped in hazel twigs was dragged home by horse to burn in the fireplace for the 12 days of Christmas. It would be put out on the first Monday after the Twelfth Night, also called Plough Monday, for good luck in the New Year. A piece of the log would be kept back to light again the following Christmas. 

Nowadays, however, most households have chocolate Yule logs rather than wood. We’re not complaining!

Twelfth Night Christmas Celebration

January 6th or Twelfth Night signalled the end of the Christmas season and was celebrated by a Twelfth Night party with party games, dancing, drinking and eating.

The Twelfth Cake, which gave rise to today’s Christmas cake, was the highlight of the party and a slice was given to all members of the household. Traditionally, it contained both a dried bean and a dried pea to elect a man as king for the night, and a woman as queen. In wealthy households, staff would generously also be offered a piece of the Twelfth Cake. 

The Twelfth night would also include Wassailing – a hot, mulled punch. Wassailing dates back to the Anglo-Saxon era and has evolved over the years.

There were different types of Wassailing, depending on location and social class. For wealthy households, a Wassail bowl would be passed around guests for everyone to take a sip and toast the next person. From the 1600s, poor households would take a Wassail bowl containing a mulled ale drink known as Lamb’s Wool around the streets. People would be offered a drink in exchange for money. From the late 16th century, Wassailing in some regions would incorporate a visit to an orchard with song and dance underneath the trees to wake them and encourage them to produce a good crop the next year.

After the Twelfth Night celebration, families took down all the decorations and burned all the greenery to avoid bad luck in the New Year. Even today, many people superstitiously take down all their Christmas decorations before 6th January. 

Plough Monday (the first Monday after the Twelfth Night) was more commonly celebrated in agricultural areas. Farm labourers would paint their faces black with soot and pull a decorated plough around the more affluent houses in their local villages in exchange for money.

Where’s our month-long holiday?!

The extended Christmas season disappeared after the Regency period by the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the decline of the rural life. Employers needed workers to continue working throughout the holiday season, creating the shortened Christmas period of today. Tragic. 

To learn more about Georgian Christmas here at Craven Street, join our free, Virtual Talk: Christmas at Craven Street on Wednesday 14 December 2022 – 5pm GMT/12pm ET!

The History of Thanksgiving: An Introduction

Alice Hopkinson explores the history of Thanksgiving and challenges us to rethink the accepted narrative.

Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the ‘First Thanksgiving’ of 1621, something that holds a deep, traditional meaning, and has become enshrined in the American cultural conscience. Since George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789, Presidents have used the holiday to convey ideals that lie outside the sphere of traditional religiosity and notions of simply ‘giving thanks’ for a bountiful harvest. Proceeding years saw successive Presidents devote their attention towards reaffirming the values of the Founding American Republic, discussing events of the previous year or addressing broader issues affecting the Nation. Whilst this is certainly indicative of a progressing American cultural identity, it is emblematic of Thanksgiving finding its own origin for tradition and subsequently evolving into something far greater and disparate from what it meant at its conception. 

Thanksgiving has developed from a solemn and simple Colonial observance of thanks into an enterprising celebration that encompasses a variety of values, yet holds a far more sinister meaning for the Native American people supposedly crucial to its founding legend. 

The ‘First Thanksgiving’ at Plymouth

Those who first settled in the Massachusetts Bay area were those who retreated from England following indignation and persecution for their religious practices. As a somewhat more extreme derivative group of Puritans, the Pilgrims sought to deviate from the practise of religion that had been reformed under King James I, and were therefore at severe risk of persecution if they were to remain in England. Fleeing to the New World in search of religious freedom, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and on Native Wampanoag territory- something that is frequently omitted from contemporary retellings.

Famine and disease had been rampant throughout the voyage, with these poor conditions only becoming worse as the Pilgrims struggled to provide for themselves and build a self-sustaining settlement in this new environment. After a particularly tough winter the Pilgrims received invaluable guidance and assistance from the Wampanoag tribe, who graciously taught the settlers how to live off the land. It is at this instance that the ‘myth’ around the story of the first Thanksgiving becomes increasingly prevalent. The Pilgrims in return thanked the Wampanoag people and, with the first harvest produced, held a dinner to acknowledge their kindness, enshrining in tradition the act of holding a celebration of thanks for instances of recognising gratitude.

File:The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris.png

Is this the whole story?

In reality, the peace between the settlers and Native Americans was short lived. Relations between the two groups quickly deteriorated and tensions became more aggravated, particularly with the rapid expansion of European settlements and the vast influx of migration that occurred from the 1630s. As a result, Native Americans were forced out of land that had once been theirs and have since been subject to rampant cultural erasure. This highlights the stark contrast between the seemingly peaceful relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans seen in portrayals of the ‘First Thanksgiving’, and the more sinister reality. 

The origin of tradition

Despite the 1621 Thanksgiving being famously recognised as the ‘first’, it is important to acknowledge that the tradition of giving thanks was a precedent that long predated the 1620 Mayflower voyage, and something that was essentially imported by the European settlers. Colonists observed thanksgivings regularly and even sustained this practice through the Revolutionary era, observing the celebrations for bountiful harvests, victory in battle or for acts of seemingly divine benevolence that had transpired. 

Thanksgiving as a holiday

With George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation offering gratitude for the recent ratification of the Constitution, formation of the American Republic and preservation of “safety and happiness… for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed”, it became possible to acknowledge the shift in meaning of Thanksgiving as a designated holiday held in the public conscience. Whilst Washington does acknowledge the religious sentiments of the occasion and gives thanks for fortune in harvest, he uses similar language to that found in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and spends the majority of his Proclamation affirming the founding values of the Republic- going to great lengths to ensure the people maintain the values enshrined in the nation’s founding documents. 

Presidents since Washington have used Thanksgiving as a means to address the nation in a manner that is somewhat more informal than through official Proclamations or speeches. In each Proclamation, traditional religious values are consistently affirmed, as is the notion of giving thanks to God for the fortunes of the nation. However, each address is unique to the President and is in many ways a way in which to trace the narrative of American history in accordance with the fundamental issues concerning the nation. Last year President Biden marked the 400th anniversary of the ‘First Thanksgiving’ by acknowledging the “generosity and support of the Wampanoag” and compared their actions to those who have dedicated their time to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. A very topical Proclamation, it is one that dedicates itself more to reaffirming familial and traditional values as opposed to those of the nation and Founding Fathers- fitting, considering the context in which it was written. 

Contemporary meaning

Culturally, Thanksgiving has shed much of its religious sentiment in recent years and has become almost unrecognisable from its origin. Maintaining its association to harvests, it has become more familial, with it being tradition for many families to hold a Thanksgiving dinner that incorporates much of the food typically found on the North American continent, the turkey being the most pertinent example of such.

Furthermore, it has evolved to accommodate America as a consumerist nation that thrives on business and a booming economy, with contemporary traditions such as the Macy’s Day Parade, American football games and the amusing White House turkey pardon being the focus of attention throughout the country.

File:President John F. Kennedy receives the 16th White House Thanksgiving Turkey 1963.jpg  File:Macys Thanksgiving Parade (37733875745).jpg File:Thanksgiving 1900.JPG

These new and emerging customs demonstrate how Thanksgiving as a cultural tradition has taken on a new meaning that has adapted and evolved in line with the changing American people. Yet aside from the jubilations brought on by the holiday, it is paramount to bear in mind that these traditions exist only for some. Many Native Americans choose not to celebrate Thanksgiving, serving as a reminder that a whole representative body has been practically omitted from the mainstream teaching of Thanksgiving. This highlights the importance of preserving these narratives. 

To hear a continuation of this discussion, join us on November 25 2022, 5pm GMT/12pm BST.

Author: Alice Hopkinson