The life of Jane Mecom…. Suggested reading for all Tea Partiers

Harvard professor Jill Lepore, the author of The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History, has a brilliant op-ed in today’s New York Times on the life of Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane Mecom. It should be required reading for anyone who ever attended a Tea Party rally and shook their fist in the air when the portly white man on stage wearing the tricorne hat, yelled about how we had to get our nation back to its colonial roots. Here’s a clip:

The House Budget Committee chairman, Paul D. Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, announced his party’s new economic plan this month. It’s called “The Path to Prosperity,” a nod to an essay Benjamin Franklin once wrote, called “The Way to Wealth.”

Franklin, who’s on the $100 bill, was the youngest of 10 sons. Nowhere on any legal tender is his sister Jane, the youngest of seven daughters; she never traveled the way to wealth. He was born in 1706, she in 1712. Their father was a Boston candle-maker, scraping by. Massachusetts’ Poor Law required teaching boys to write; the mandate for girls ended at reading. Benny went to school for just two years; Jenny never went at all.

Their lives tell an 18th-century tale of two Americas. Against poverty and ignorance, Franklin prevailed; his sister did not.

At 17, he ran away from home. At 15, she married: she was probably pregnant, as were, at the time, a third of all brides. She and her brother wrote to each other all their lives: they were each other’s dearest friends. (He wrote more letters to her than to anyone.) His letters are learned, warm, funny, delightful; hers are misspelled, fretful and full of sorrow. “Nothing but troble can you her from me,” she warned. It’s extraordinary that she could write at all.

“I have such a Poor Fackulty at making Leters,” she confessed.

He would have none of it. “Is there not a little Affectation in your Apology for the Incorrectness of your Writing?” he teased. “Perhaps it is rather fishing for commendation. You write better, in my Opinion, than most American Women.” He was, sadly, right.

She had one child after another; her husband, a saddler named Edward Mecom, grew ill, and may have lost his mind, as, most certainly, did two of her sons. She struggled, and failed, to keep them out of debtors’ prison, the almshouse, asylums. She took in boarders; she sewed bonnets. She had not a moment’s rest.

And still, she thirsted for knowledge. “I Read as much as I Dare,” she confided to her brother. She once asked him for a copy of “all the Political pieces” he had ever written. “I could as easily make a collection for you of all the past parings of my nails,” he joked. He sent her what he could; she read it all. But there was no way out.

They left very different paper trails. He wrote the story of his life, stirring and wry — the most important autobiography ever written. She wrote 14 pages of what she called her “Book of Ages.” It isn’t an autobiography; it is, instead, a litany of grief, a history, in brief, of a life lived rags to rags.

It begins: “Josiah Mecom their first Born on Wednesday June the 4: 1729 and Died May the 18-1730.” Each page records another heartbreak. “Died my Dear & Beloved Daughter Polly Mecom,” she wrote one dreadful day, adding, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away oh may I never be so Rebelious as to Refuse Acquesing & saying from my hart Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

Jane Mecom had 12 children; she buried 11. And then, she put down her pen.

Today, two and a half centuries later, the nation’s bookshelves sag with doorstop biographies of the founders; Tea Partiers dressed as Benjamin Franklin call for an end to social services for the poor; and the “Path to Prosperity” urges a return to “America’s founding ideals of liberty, limited government and equality under the rule of law.” But the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families…

That world was changing. In 1789, Boston for the first time, allowed girls to attend public schools. The fertility rate began declining. The American Revolution made possible a new world, a world of fewer obstacles, a world with a promise of equality. That required — and still requires — sympathy…

I think this is particularly fitting reading tonight, as we continue our discussion on the closing of Detroit’s Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women.

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  1. Posted April 24, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I know plenty of libertarians and de facto Tea Partiers. Whenever the question of what to do about the poor and socially marginalized, education and health care for a sick underclass, they are remarkably silent as if all of America are property owning white people, automatically educated right out of the womb.

    Thank you for posting this article.

  2. Boy O Boy
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Franklin had twelve siblings. Five brothers. Seven sisters. I think seven more half siblings.

    NEWS FLASH: None of them did as well as he did. A lot of them had hard lives. A lot of them had good lives. So what? Anyone with siblings knows that they turn out different. Would more federal spending have made all his siblings magically become as successful as Franklin?

    Liberals twist anything to desperately try to make their nonsense make sense. The only moral from this story is don’t get knocked up when you’re fifteen.

  3. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I don’t get the connection at all. Closing the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women will facilitate these girls attendance at another school in the Detroit Public School System that will do a better job educating them. They would be far better served by attendance at a school like Renaissance High.

    The “Separate but Equal” doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 was overturned with the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that established “separate but equal is inherently unequal”. Despite their pregnancy during their teen years, these girls deserve the same opportunities for education as the rest of the students in the Public School system.

  4. Knox
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I think the point of the post was to remind folks that dressing up in powdered wigs and talking about “the good old days” is fucking lunacy. I believe the article said that she outlived 11 of her 12 children. And girls weren’t educated. I know it hurts to admit this, but our nation has made progress over the past 200 years.

  5. Posted April 25, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    What do better medical advances have to do with wanting the federal government to obey the Constitution?

    It’s like saying that if a person wants to maintain a historic house in keeping with its Victorian architecture, then they approve of yellow fever epidemics.

  6. Posted April 25, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    EOS, what evidence do you have that these girls did not have the same opportunities as anyone else in the DPS?

  7. Edward
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I’m sure a lot of Republicans read this and think to themselves, “Franklin only had two years of education, and look what he accomplished. Maybe we’re over-educating our kids.”

  8. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    From the original post and information about the school from additional Google searches. Not only does the school reduce the amount of time spent on academic subjects for “farm work” but it also spends a significant amount of time teaching childcare and addressing social needs. The girls often have their babies with them during instruction which can serve as a major distraction interfering with their education. They can receive course credit for activities such as reading to their infants.

    The staff of this school seems to be morally and intellectually challenged. Representatives of the school have gotten outside funding from the Kellogg and Gates Foundation by claiming 90% of the girls graduate and go on to attend college, which is a serious issue of integrity. The principal’s stated goal is that the girls could make $20K a year with a backyard garden while they care for their infants, which is somewhat delusional. And after ten years, their academic results are dismal and not improving.

    Being a pregnant, unwed, low income teenager is a serious developmental roadblock that has been shown by numerous studies to result in poverty for the woman as well as her children. This program may have been started with the best of intentions, but it is not working either to educate the girls or to keep them in school. They have not shown to be better at providing for these young women than the existing county funded programs and public schools despite all the increased funding they receive.

  9. Kim
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    So, as the Republicans work round the clock to defund women’s health initiatives like those operated by Planned Parenthood, you don’t see a connection, Jake? You think that health care and politics aren’t related?

    Do you also think that politics and education aren’t related? Can you look at what’s happening in Detroit, as up to 60 kids will be warehoused in a single classroom, and tell me that politics isn’t dictating education policy? Do you really think that these kids are going to have the same education that their counterparts in Ann Arbor are getting?

    I sometimes appreciate your arguments. This isn’t one of those times.

  10. Barbara O'Brien
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink


    My name is Barbara O’Brien and I am a political blogger. Just had a question about your blog and couldn’t find an email—please get back to me as soon as you can (barbaraobrien(at)


  11. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I think the comment “don’t get knocked up when you are fifteen” is just about the most awesomely insane comment I have read in a long time (besides my own, of course).

    When I posted this on my FB page, one of my friends commented that birth control would go down as one of the most historic advancements for women and I said it may be THE most historical thing for women. Look–I know this pains some of you who AREN’T getting laid but the fact is, people gonna fuck. They may not be fucking YOU (and that’s what makes folks bitter) but they are going to fuck. I’d like to prevent unwanted pregnancies to unwed people, personally, as I’ve seen how life choices are limited by early pregnancies. For this reason, I want places like Planned Parenthood around (and yeah, I like having abortion legal).

    Think of it this way…there are a lot of folks who don’t like the fact that I’m a female, here unsupervised on the Interwebz (it’s my day off btw) and early a living that would allow me to support myself without a husband (if I had to). But if I had a bunch of kids running around, hanging off my (glorious) boobs, well, I wouldn’t be able to support myself or spout off my opinion as much now would I? I try not to keep an open mind on things–I really do–but as far as I’m concerned, the efforts to defund PP are meant to keep women in our “place”. Period.

  12. Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Kim — the Feds aren’t supposed to provide, regulate, or fund those services. The States can, if they want. That’s federalism for you. Even the above article mentioned Boston allowing girls to attend public schools. Boston isn’t the feds.

    I’d wager that the reason you don’t generally see undereducated young moms lose 11 out of 12 of their children in the U.S. these days is much more because of advances in medical science rather than federal health care programs, federal regulation/funding of public education, and/or federal funding of planned parenthood. That’s my guess.

  13. Glen S.
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    @ Jake

    Why do you assume these “advances in medical science” — many of which were realized in the U.S. during the 20th Century — had nothing at all to do with the U.S. making a conscious decision to build a well-funded and highly-integrated network of (state and federal taxpayer-supported) research universities and medical schools, along with multiple federal agencies devoted to medicine — including the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, Centers for Disease Control, etc.?

  14. Brainless
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Mark, you now have the dumbest commenters on any local blog. Congrats. (Though I’m sure that’s not what you set out to do.) Boy-o is just a garden-variety ditto-head idiot and EOS is apparently a poorly trained monkey. If not for Patti, I think all would be lost.

    Enjoy this, useless idiots:

  15. kjc
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    touche Glen.

  16. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    The efforts to defund PP are meant to discourage the killing of innocent humans, 50% of whom are female. It has nothing to do with healthcare, research, or advances in medical science. Abortion is not a birth control method. It is nothing less than homicide and is used only after birth control has failed or been neglected.

  17. Posted April 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Here are some of the people responsible for the alluded to medical advances: Edward Jenner, Joseph Lister, Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, Wilhelm Roentgen, Ronald Ross, Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, and Sir Alexander Fleming.

    British, British, French, German, German, British, British, Scottish.

    Where’s the U.S. federal government in this picture?

    Why do you assume that without the U.S. government inserting itself into the medical field, we would all forget these advances and go back to the dark ages?

  18. LaidOffTeacherPatti
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Hey thanks Brainless (er, Brainfull?? :))

    EOS, I have to jump in on your comment…over and over, statistics (yeah I know lies, damn lies and all that but go with me here) show that less than 3% of PP’s services are abortion. I don’t quite get wanting to (note to self: don’t use throw the baby out with the bath water analogy. Don’t do it) get rid of an entire agency because of <3% of what it does. (note to self: Good job!)

  19. Brainless
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    The idiot speaks again. If you don’t want abortion, then make birth control safe and legal for everybody. And quit telling kids they’ll be tortured in hell for eternity for so much as touching themselves, dumbass.

    Defunding PP will do nothing more than kill adults from a host of medical problems that will now go undiagnosed and treated. But I guess you sick bastards get off on women suffering.

  20. EOS
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    The other 97% of what PP does is already covered by Medicaid. No one needs PP for healthcare as there are plenty of better alternatives.

    Umm, Brainless – Birth control is safe and legal for everybody. I don’t know anyone who would tell you that you will be tortured in hell for eternity for touching yourself. Wasn’t me.

  21. Kim
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    It pains me to know that you’re this stupid, Jake.

    This may help.



    The NIH Leads the Battle Against Disease

    Leading the battle against disease. As the world’s leading medical research institution, the NIH funds more than 35,000 research grants each year to scientists across the country making advances against heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. NIH-funded scientists have won 93 Nobel Prizes over the years, and researchers in the NIH’s own labs have won 5 Nobel Prizes.

    High returns from federal investments. The federal government, mainly through the NIH, funds about 36 percent of all U.S. medical research. Most NIH-funded research focuses on basic science, which creates advances across many disease categories. Publicly funded research in general generates high rates of return to the economy, averaging 25 to 40 percent a year.

    Successes against many diseases. NIH-funded research has contributed to dramatic decreases in heart disease and stroke mortality rates, increased cancer survival rates, new medications for mental illness, vaccines to protect against infectious diseases, and many other advances in medicine.

    NIH behind 7 of 21 top drugs. Of the 21 most important drugs introduced between 1965 and 1992, 15 were developed using knowledge and techniques from federally funded research. Of these, NIH research led to the development of 7 drugs used to treat patients with cancer, AIDS, hypertension, depression, herpes, and anemia.

    Reducing the Economic Costs of Illness

    Economic costs of illness. The economic costs of illness in the U.S. are approximately $3 trillion annually, representing 31 percent of the nation’s GDP. This includes “direct” costs of public and private health care spending of $1.3 trillion, and “indirect” illness costs from reduced ability to work and premature death of $1.7 trillion.

    NIH investments are small compared to economic costs of illness. NIH-funded medical advances are central to lowering the huge economic costs of illness. The NIH is fighting this $3 trillion battle with a budget of just $16 billion, or less than one percent of annual illness costs.

    Reducing the direct costs of illness. Past advances have dramatically reduced health care costs for such illnesses as tuberculosis, polio, peptic ulcers, and schizophrenia. Future advances hold great promise of further reducing costs, such as with drug treatments that decrease hospital stays and invasive surgeries. One study found that, on average, a $1 increase in drug expenditures reduces hospital expenditures by about $3.65.

    Reducing the indirect costs of illness. Medical advances also cut illness costs by reducing lost economic output from disability and premature death. For example, new treatments for AIDS—some developed with funding from the NIH—caused the mortality rate from AIDS to drop over 60 percent in the mid-1990s, thus allowing tens of thousands of Americans to continue contributing to our society and economy.

    Illness and the Value of Life

    The value of life. Most Americans value their life and health very highly. By extending life and improving health, medical research generates great value to us all, in addition to its role in lowering the economic costs of illness.

    Longevity is worth trillions of dollars. U.S. longevity has increased as the overall U.S. death rate has dropped by one-third since 1970. A recent study found that these longevity increases have created net “value of life” gains to Americans of about $2.4 trillion every year. Such estimates place a value on a year of life based on the typical person’s “willingness to pay” to avoid various safety risks.

    High returns from NIH-funded research. A portion of the $2.4 trillion in annual longevity gains stem from medical research, and NIH-funded research in particular. If just 10 percent of the value of longevity increases ($240 billion) resulted from NIH-funded research, it indicates a payoff of about 15 times the annual NIH investment of $16 billion.

    Cardiovascular disease. Advances against the biggest killer of Americans, cardiovascular disease, illustrate the benefits of medical research. The death rate from cardiovascular disease has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1970. About one-third of the decline is the result of advances in medical technology, according to a recent study.

    The NIH’s Role is More Important Than Ever

    Cost of illness threatens to rise. The costs of illness may grow higher if we fail to push ahead with further research. Infectious diseases, in particular, are continually creating new health costs. The recent emergence of Lyme disease, E. coli, and hantavirus, for example, show how nature continues to evolve new threats to health. In addition, dangerous bacteria are evolving at an alarming rate and grow resistant to every new round of antibiotics.

    The NIH agenda. NIH-funded research is creating progress in many exciting areas, such as the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain illnesses; better treatment of spinal cord injuries; and greater knowledge of the mechanisms that cause cancer. The human genome project, supported by NIH, holds the prospect of far-reaching advances in gene therapy to treat many illnesses.

  22. Boy O Boy
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    It doesn’t matter if the federal government cured death itself. The ends don’t justify the means. To engage in discussion of whether stolen dollars save baby seals is to miss the point.

  23. Brainless
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, fuck you if the world is a better place. Everyone should suffer for Boy-0’s principles. At least you’re being honest about what a bastard you are. Thank you.

    And EOS/dipshit, birth control is neither safe nor affordable for most people. It’s not safe in that no good research has been done on it in decades thanks to assholes like you and Boy-o-tard. Why don’t you get hopped up on artificial hormones all the time and see how you like it, you empathy-free asswipe? And it’s not affordable because someone working minimum wage can’t afford so much as a fucking band-aid in case you hadn’t noticed. (Oh yeah, you don’t believe in minimum wage, so folks should actually be just a bit poorer in your eyes.)

  24. Posted April 25, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    What did I say that was stupid, Kim?

    Am I supposed to be impressed that the NIH funds about 36% percent of all medical research?

    Who funds the majority of all medical research?

    Private industry, maybe?

    Did the NIH fund those guys I just mentioned?


    Then how was I being stupid?

    Or are you one of those people that automatically thinks that anyone who disagrees with your politics is an idiot, and thinks that gives you license to insult people who don’t deserve it? I always find people like that fascinating. Me and the guys in the band all have wildly differing views on politics and religion, and we seem to be able to talk about it just fine, and still hold each other in the highest regard. Not everybody is like that around here, though. Usually those people are found on the losing side of a debate.

  25. TaterSalad
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Detroit is bankrupt but it spends over $1,000.00 per chair. This how progressives deal with a city that is bankrupt. Spend even more money. Doesn’t this sound like the Barack Obama agenda?

  26. Posted April 25, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Kim, Glen — do you guys honestly think that if the NIH was defunded, that the medical community would forget that diseases come from germs, or what x-rays are, or how to make vaccines?

    Do you honestly think that we’d go back to an 1800’s infant mortality rate?

    That without the NIH’s 36%, all the rest of the medical community’s funding would disappear?

    Is that what you’re proposing as a rational hypothesis compared to my supposed stupidity?


  27. Posted April 25, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    May I cross-post this?

  28. Boy O Boy
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Do you kiss you mother with that mouth “Brainless”? Whether or not I have empathy is up to me as a free citizen. What charities I give to is up to me as a free person. Forced contributions are not empathy. Where in your “concept” of freedom do you fit telling people what to care about and taking their money?

  29. dragon
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Caucasian Jake has Michigan’s most extensive collection of snuff films.


  30. Brainless
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    No Boy-o, I kiss YOUR mom with that mouth.

    No one’s forcing you to have any empathy at all (which is good, since you’re a fucking prick). But it’s our country to do with whatever the heck we want. It’s not about concepts and some shit you read on the back of a cereal box about a bunch of dead rich white slave owners in wigs.

    As has been said many times: If you don’t like it, live somewhere else. People here want universal healthcare, good schools and peace, for the luvogod. It’s amazing how much resistance bastards like you put up to the least effort to make our country a better place for ALL. E PLURIBUS UNUM, dumbass.

  31. Boy O Boy
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    People here want to live free. That’s why the Tea Party handed Democrats their ass in the last election, dumbass. I like it here which is why I will stay and FIGHT. Liberals big threat? That they’ll move to Canada. The only problem is they always lack follow through.

  32. Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    I’ve never heard anyone threaten to move to Canada, unless they were Canadian.

  33. Boy O Boy
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    People tell me hearing loss is a natural part aging just like getting stuck in your views.

  34. TaterSalad
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Barack Obama’s man made gasoline price predicament :

    Open ANWAR for drilling and to produce our own oil instead of buying it from foreign countries at inflated costs while keeping the speculators at bay and to keep our money right here in America

    Add up items #1 thru #8, putting the most emphasis on #8 and you will have the cost of America’s gasoline costs:


    2. &

    3. The President of the U.S. is now giving $2.84 Billion taxpayers dollars to Columbia to build an oil refinery. I thought we needed jobs here in the U.S.? This President is a complete loser and it now shows he hates America.
    U.S. Gov’t Agency Plans $2.84 Billion Loan for Oil RefineryIn Colombia



    6. As Your Gas Climbs To $5 a Gallon Obama’s EPA Blocks Access To 27 Billion Barrels Of American Oil –

    7. Is Saudi Arabia mad at Barack Obama for allowing Egypt to fall?

    8. The problem that contributes the MOST to high gas prices is Quantitative Easing (QE2) by the Obama administration and here is why:

    Printing more money tends to push down the value of the dollar. While that would tend to help U.S. exports, it also risks pushing up the price of oil and other commodities, threatening an inflation surge that could be difficult to stop if the economy picks up.

    9. After reading and watching all of the above information provided, there is still one question that needs to be asked and hopefully YOU have the right answer for the 2012 election. How is this “Hope & Change” thing working out for Americans of all parties now?

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