The Woman Behind the Man: DEBORAH FRANKLIN

by Lila Achuff


For one hour, and one hour only, we have the opportunity at Hedgerow to meet THE FIRST LADY OF PHILADELPHIA: DEBORAH FRANKLIN as she reminisces about her colonial life with her husband, Benjamin. However, while she is ruminating about all this, she is also living the hour in real (wink, wink) time. In other words, the scene opens with her aiming a shotgun at the rioters who are outside rebelling about having to pay taxes. We’re talking “no shrinking violet” here. Benjamin is away in Europe and she’s literally minding the general store which is the front of Ben’s print shop. Together they were frugal, successful and ultimately became very wealthy.

Roberta Sloan portrays DEBORAH FRANKLIN in the Hedgerow Theatre production running through February 6.

Deborah Read Franklin (1708-1774) was the common-law wife of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) and to whom she was “married” for 43 years. Many of those years, 18 to be exact, he spent overseas. Although she could have gone with him, she had a fear of ocean voyages, and felt that others she would encounter would be too “stuck up”. Suffice to say, she was her own woman. As she spoke of female friends in her circle, I’d venture to say that she preferred the company of men to women; her facial expressions and words were very telling. She would hold nothing back. Her best friend was her daughter, Sally.

Besides having two children, Francis and Sarah (Sally), with Benjamin, Deborah also raised Benjamin’s illegitimate son, William, whom she frequently and begrudgingly refers to as “the bastard”. Sadly, Francis died at age five from “the pox”.

Deborah Franklin was very devoted to her husband and speaks with pride of his accomplishments but would like us to know that he was lucky to have her and doubts that he could have accomplished so much without her. She, too, contributed to Poor Richard’s Almanac! She, too, was against slavery and believed in equality for all. In fact, at one point she lovingly referred to him simply as a “flake”!

This production was conceived and written by Dennis Moritz and Roberta Sloan who also performs in the role of Deborah Franklin. We are fortunate to have Ms. Sloan to not only share with us her interest in this remarkable woman, but who is also so skillful in bringing her to life and on to the stage. How many more women behind famous men are overlooked by the public and overshadowed by their powerful partners? Perhaps one of you young history buffs out there can take on the challenge of bringing to life yet another “woman behind a man”. Super history project, teachers!

Until the next show…

Conceived and Written by Dennis Moritz and Roberta Sloan
Directed by David O’Connor
January 29 – February 6, 2011
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA

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