Angela Cutone, Brianna Duffy, Brendan Murphy, and Caroline Murphy
Benjamin Franklin wrote the speech of Polly Baker as a work of fiction which worked to represent a court case of a woman named Polly Baker. Although still unsure, it is believed that the speech was written in 1746, but it was first published in London’s The General Advertiser on April 15, 1747. It was also published in multiple other newspapers, including some in the states. The author was unknown for a long time and the whole time it was believed the the story of Polly Baker was true. In 1788 Benjamin Franklin revealed it was he who wrote the speech. The speech moved many Europeans and was used to help with reformation.
In this work, we are introduced to the main character Miss Polly Baker and her plight. She is arguing her case in front of a court of law, without a lawyer, because she is unable to afford one. Polly Baker has been charged five times with having children outside of wedlock, and has been punished by both fines and public humiliation. She questions the fairness of the law in general. She states that in her eyes, the law is unreasonable and that she has done nothing wrong. Polly says that her life has been inoffensive, and that she has never committed a crime. She says that she has brought children into the world, risking her life and doing everything she can to allow them to live and grow up.
Polly begins her main argument by saying that she is not against being married and is still willing to enter into marriage, even after being married once, trusting some man completely and being betrayed. This man left her with a child. He was never punished, and instead became a Magistrate of the courts. She questions why she is punished and he is allowed to advance to a place of power within the government; why is she the one being punished for something that is not even her fault to begin with?
She believes that instead God is happy with her deeds and she has simply taken part in the natural process of increasing and multiplying the population.
Finally, she mentions the increasing number of single men, who are scared of how expensive raising a family is and simply do not reproduce. Polly compares this to being no better than a murder and being a greater offence to the public good than what she has been charged with. Polly argues that women are powerless to do anything, as they are punished for it if it is outside wedlock. In the ending statement, she thinks that instead of public punishment, a statue should be erected in her honor and memory because she has not committed a crime, but instead furthered the public good with her actions, and endured the wrongful punishments that accompanied them.
The format of this essay is definitely something to be noted. Given that it is in the form of a testimony before a court, the syntax is formal, but simple to understand. Polly Baker is, understandably, frustrated with the circumstances surrounding this trial and her having been brought to trial for the fifth time, and thus has an irate, righteous, and vaguely outraged tone. However, read from the perspective of satire, Benjamin Franklin’s overall purpose gives this entire piece another side, another edge and another tone. His tone is caustic and pointed, directly attacking the patriarchy for their hypocrisy on this matter. Through the use of more simple diction, Franklin makes this story easy for anyone to understand, as the issue of a lack of women’s rights affects everyone. The format of a trial puts this issue on trial–should women be given more rights? He leaves the resolution open ended for the reader to decide, but it leaves everyone thinking about the points Polly Baker made.
Why is it important?:
The speech of Miss Polly Baker is very important because it touches upon the gender inequality that is prevalent in society. Miss Polly Baker is a single mother of five who was once married but her husband left her with a child to become a court magistrate. After her first marriage Miss Polly Baker then had four more children leaving her with five in total, all of which she will get fined for. It is unfair to fine Polly Baker because she has provided well for her children with no help from anyone else. This can be considered a feminist piece of writing because Polly Baker is proving that even though she is a woman she is self sufficient and can provide for all of her children on her own without the help of a man, even with the fines and public humiliation Polly Baker is a strong woman.