Jane Franklin Mecom (March 27, 1712–May 7, 1794) was the youngest sister of Benjamin Franklin and was considered one of his closest confidants. Mecom and Franklin corresponded throughout the course of their lives, and some of their letters survive.
Though Mecom never attended school, she learned to read and write under the tutelage of Benjamin Franklin. In 1723 Benjamin ran away to become a printer in New York and escape his indenture to his brother, leaving his 11-year-old sister alone. At 15 she was married off, although the legal marrying age in Massachusetts was 16, and her brothers and most of her sisters had married by 24, none of them before 20. Even more startlingly, she was married to a nearly-illiterate 22-year-old saddler, Edward Mecom, a poor Scottish immigrant whose swings of mental instability were inherited by at least two of his sons. Constantly in deep debt, he spent much of his marriage in debtors' prison, leaving his wife to be the family breadwinner. None of her letters reveal evidence that she had any affection for this man. Therefore, the motive for this marriage is a mystery. Jill Lepore, the primary and only historian so far of Jane Franklin, theorizes that the young girl could have had an affair and become pregnant out of wedlock from it, and the marriage was an attempt to save the family dignity. Lepore bases this theory on interpretations of one of Benjamin’s earliest letters to Jane that scolds her for being overly sexual. If there had been a child she miscarried it; her first son, Josiah Mecom, was born two years later and she named him for her father. He died three weeks before his first birthday. While it has been suggested that Benjamin Franklin gave Mecom a spinning wheel as a wedding gift, Lepore argued that this was a misreading of a joke made by Franklin in a letter to his sister. Jane and Edward Mecom had twelve children: Josiah Mecom I, Edward "Neddy" Mecom, Benjamin "Benny" Mecom, Ebenezer Mecom, Sarah "Sally" Mecom, Peter Franklin Mecom, John Mecom, Josiah Mecom, Jane Mecom, James Mecom, Mary "Polly" Mecom, and Abiah Mecom.
One son, Benjamin, disappeared during the Battle of Trenton. Two of her sons struggled with mental illness. Mecom made efforts to keep her children out of debtors' prison, the almshouse, and asylums. Several of them succumbed to an illness now believed to be tuberculosis. The religious beliefs of the time taught people not to fear death. In fact, because many children (about 25%) did not live past the age of 10, children were taught not to fear death. To earn money, Mecom boiled soap and took in boarders, and in 1767 she and her daughters Jenny and Polly established a small shop to sell caps and bonnets that they created using materials sent from London by a friend of Benjamin Franklin. The shop failed when colonists boycotted imported products, a decision Benjamin Franklin could only encourage. It is to be noted that women could not earn money without the permission of their husbands, thus it can be believed that Jane's husband recognized the need for his wife to work, as they were not financially stable and he could not provide for them on his own. (Had he been able to Jane would have been considered a "feme covert", a woman taken care of by a man.) Only one of Mecom's children outlived her. Edward Mecom died in 1765 after 38 years of marriage.
Although Jane Mecom and Benjamin Franklin corresponded for six decades following his departure from their childhood home, letters written by Mecom before 1758 are lost. Prior to that date, the only record of her writing is a slim book that she made to chronicle her life. Mecom named her chronicle "Book of Ages."
When Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, his will stipulated that Mecom should continue to live in her house, which was owned by Franklin, until she died. He also arranged for an allowance of 50 pounds to be given to her each year, a sizable sum at the time. Jane died four years later in 1794 at 82, succeed by her only remaining child, Jane Mecom. The house was later demolished to make room for a memorial to Paul Revere.
- Ireland, Corydon (21 September 2012). "The tale of Benny and Jenny". news.harvard.edu. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
- Carl van Doren, ed., The Letters of Benjamin Franklin and Jane Mecom (Princeton University Press, 1950); Carl van Doren, Jane Mecom, or, The Favorite Sister of Benjamin Franklin: Her Life here first narrated from their entire surviving correspondence (NY: Viking Press, 1950)
- Lepore, Jill (April 23, 2011). "Poor Jane’s Almanac". New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
- "American National Biography Online". www.anb.org. Retrieved 2016-10-31.
- Dunn, Susan. "The Other Franklin." Review of Book Of Ages: The Life And Opinions Of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore. The New York Review Of Books. Last modified 3013. Accessed October 27, 2016.https://web.williams.edu/ humanities/sdunn/articles/The%20Other%20Franklin.pdf.
- Scott, Anne Firor (1984). Making the Invisible Woman Visible. University of Illinois Press. pp. 5–8.
- Lepore, Jill (2013). Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. Knopf. ISBN 9780307958341.
- Brouffard, James Charles (2007). The Entrepreneurial Ben Franklin, 2nd ed. p. 61.
- Benjamin Franklin and Catherine Ray Greene: Their Correspondence 1755 - 1790 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1949. W. G. Roelker, editor.)
- Jeremy A. Stern, "Jane Franklin Mecom: A Boston Woman in Revolutionary Times," Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal - Vol. 4, Number 1, Spring 2006, pp. 147–191, link to abstract
- Jill Lepore, "The Prodigal Daughter," The New Yorker, July 8, 2013, available online