A Woman to Know: Patience Wright

To shame the English king, I would go to any trouble and expense. — Patience

(image via National Portrait Gallery)


Patience was a bit of a Founding Fathers fangirl. By day she shaped wax figures in her Philadelphia studio; by night, she wrote long letters to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and other colonial heroes. Her wax sculptures became famous for their incredibly lifelike features -- she painstakingly added glass eyes, eyelashes and more to make shockingly realistic statues. In 1970 British King George and Queen Charlotte invited Patience to London, where she sculpted for nobles and hobnobbed with royals.

This is where her letter-writing obsession came in handy. She would eavesdrop on Parliament conversations and hide secret letters within her wax, shipping sculpted busts and limbs back to the Patriots. Her sister Rachel would receive the sculptures, unfurl the documents and pass them stateside to the colonial rebels. But Patience's fervent correspondence soon fatigued leaders from the newly-independent colonies, and they stopped answering her letters. Patience died in London, out of favor with the defeated Brits and still waiting on a response from George Washington himself.

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