"The Seeds of Every Female Virtue"
My Son is my Son
'Til he takes him a Wife:
But my Daughter's my Daughter
All the Days of my Life.
--Franklin to Mather Byles, June 1, 1788
EDUCATING A BOY was one proposition, bringing up a girl an entirely different one. The question of the "Propriety of educating the Female Sex in Learning, and their Abilities for Study" had been the very first of various topics debated between the adolescent Benjamin and another "bookish Lad in the Town" when they were both trying to sharpen their wits. The other bookish lad was of the opinion that it was improper to educate women, since they were "naturally unequal to it." Benjamin took the contrary side, not so much out of conviction, as he admits, but "for Dispute sake."1 His arguments soon found their way into one of the letters he smuggled into his brother's paper under the pseudonym of Silence Dogood. He bolstered them with a quotation from Daniel Defoe protesting the barbarous custom of not educating women: "Their Youth is spent to teach them to stitch and sew, or make Baubles: they are taught to read indeed, and perhaps to write their Names, or so; and that is the Height of a Woman's Education. . . . What has the Woman done to forfeit the Priviledge of being taught? . . . Why did we not let her learn, that she might have had more Wit? Shall we upbraid Women with Folly when 'tis only the Error of this inhumane Custom that hindered them being made wiser?"2
Half a century elapsed between the moment those brave new views were expressed and the time Franklin was called upon to put them into practice with his own daughter. What did he do, when that day came,