Benjamin Franklin: Beloved Founding Father... and Womanizer?

Benjamin Franklin may have been the dexterous diplomat who helped draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but he apparently was dexterous in another area: the ladies department.
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Benjamin Franklin may have been the dexterous diplomat who helped draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but he apparently was dexterous in another area: the ladies department.
Apple Icons: You can thank Benjamin Franklin for the popular adage 'An apple a day  keeps the doctor away.' The phrase  helped perpetuate the idea of the apple as the ultimate health food. (Photo: Getty Images)

A portrait of Benjamin Franklin. (Photo: Getty Images)

Benjamin Franklin was a lover of knowledge; after all, he was the quintessential Renaissance man. He gave us the lightening rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals, and Poor Richard's Almanack. He was also an indispensable politician and civic activist who not only helped lay the groundwork for the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution but was also the country's first ambassador to France. 

But dig a little deeper in the history books, and you may be surprised to find that the genteel, wise, and portly old Franklin had an incontrollable weakness for the opposite sex. As a teenager, he made advances towards his good friend's mistress (yes, that was the end of their friendship), and let's not forget in his early 20s, he fathered an illegitimate child whom his wife, Rebecca, would eventually help raise. 

Franklin's libido was apparently so strong, he himself was scared of it. In his autobiography, he confessed: "the hard-to-be-governed passion of my youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way."

But even with the passage of time, Franklin's passions were unrelenting; in fact they seemed to have only grown stronger. From age 50 and until his death at 84, he spent very little time in Philadelphia with Rebecca (she died 16 years before him). Instead, for most of those years, he was busy hobnobbing in London and Paris, accruing a reputation for his extracurricular activities. So affirmed a verse that was circulating around him:

Franklin, tho`plagued with fumbling age
Needs nothing to excite him.
But is too ready to engage
When younger arms invite him. 
 

Perhaps one of the more revealing documents on his views on women, which had been known in certain circles but kept under wraps for almost 200 years, was a letter he wrote in 1745, offering advice to a young man who was having trouble with his own insatiable libido. 

In the letter, which was entitled "Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress," Franklin advised: "In all your Amours, you should prefer old Women to young ones." He goes on to explain that with older women they tend to have more discretion, will take care of you when you're sick, are cleaner than prostitutes, and that "there is no hazard of children." He also offered that you can't really tell who's old or young when you're in the dark. 

For more insight into Franklin's love affairs with women, watch History's video: