Out of the blue, in 1722, the readers of a paper published in Boston, called The Courant, were treated to and fascinated by letters that were sent in by a widow with an razor-sharp wit and a gift for sarcasm. Her name was Mrs Silence Dogood. Mrs Dogood had an unusual sense of humor. She liked to poke fun at such illustrious institutions such as Harvard. For that, many of her readers loved her and became avid followers. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, and she wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. She told it like it was, and she didn’t care what others thought of her.
So…just who was Mrs Dogood? Rumor had it that she was just an old widow woman who had been around long enough to have long lost any concern over what people thought of her. Maybe her many years of life had given her insight that no one else had. I remember reading Ann Lander’s column when I was a girl and a young married woman. Her advise always seemed so wise. I remember a number of articles from various columnists, and there again, my thought was, “How did they know so much?” I was sure they must have multiple degrees. Of course, while they might have had a degree or two, that did not make them any smarter than the next guy…and this type of writing was usually more about logic and common sense, that learned skill. So, who was Mrs Silence Dogood? That is the question of the day.
The answer to that question will most likely shock you. The reality is that Mrs Silence Dogood was the pen name used by Benjamin Franklin. Now, while Benjamin Franklin was a very intelligent man, as we all know. the fact remains that at the time he was writing under the pen name of Mrs Silence Dogood, Franklin was a boy of just 16 years. He was too young to be taken seriously or to have any possibility of getting his writings published, so he came up with an ingenious solution. His goal was to have his work published in the New-England Courant…a newspaper founded and published by his brother James Franklin. He took this goal seriously, especially after he was denied several times when he tried to publish letters under his own name in the Courant. Mrs Silence Dogood wrote 14 letters, which were first printed in 1722, and can be read here.
At the time of the printing of those letters, Franklin worked as an apprentice in his older brother’s printing shop in Boston. Franklin was a boy who had yet to get something he wrote published, so at 16, and desperate to finally receive the respect and recognition he felt he justly deserved. His idea was to create the persona of a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood. Once every two weeks, Franklin left a letter under the door of his brother’s printing shop. A total of 14 letters were sent. For months no one knew the identity of Mrs Dogood, but everyone was completely enthralled. Those letters were the talk of the town…even after they found out they were written by a 16-year-old Benjamin Franklin.