The Untold Truth Of Silence Dogood

Some celebrities use fake names for the sake of privacy when they check into hotels. Famous authors have pseudonyms when they publish something racy. Then there are revolutionary heroes who take on pen names out of spite. That's what happened when Benjamin Franklin couldn't get his work published in his brother's newspaper.

According to Boston Magazine, a teenaged Benjamin wanted to contribute to the New England Courant, a newspaper founded and edited by his brother, James, but was always denied. Benjamin, who was apprenticing at the paper, found a way to get himself published anyway. He'd pretend to be a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood.

Silence Dogood wrote letters, complaining about mundane things like hoop skirts and large petticoats, as well as criticizing many aspects of colonial life, especially Bostonian manners and drinking. She even poked fun at institutions like Harvard, per Mass Moments. Dogood sent in many letters and became so popular, she (or, well, Benjamin) had to fend off marriage proposals.

Then suddenly, after six months of hilarious letters, Dogood disappeared into thin air.

Silence Dogood went silent

No one knows why Benjamin stopped writing the Dogood letters, but it seemed others started to catch onto his scheme. The Massachusetts Historical Society writes that James and his friends knew Silence Dogood wasn't real, or even a woman. But still, he wanted to know where his famous letter writer was and, he hoped, get the pieces back in his paper.

On December 3, 1722, James ran an ad in the Courant asking for information on Dogood, explains Mass Moments. The announcement prompted Benjamin to finally reveal the truth, both to his brother and to Boston. Readers found it hilarious that a 16-year old boy had skewered Boston society so well. But James was not amused. He told his brother not to let vanity over Dogood's popularity get into his head, and this rivalry created a rift in their relationship. Benjamin left his apprenticeship, without permission from James, and moved to Philadelphia. He opened his own rival newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, which soon became one of the most popular periodicals in the colonies. 

All Benjamin Franklin wanted was to be published in his brother's newspaper. He had to invent an entirely different person to do it and, in the end, it was all worth it. Through the Pennsylvania Gazette, he cemented himself as one of the most famous men in America.