Mary Katherine Goddard—Publisher of the Declaration of Independence, first postmistress of America
After the death of her father, Mary Katherine, her brother William and her mother Sarah opened the first printing business in the colony of Rhode Island. William was the publisher in name, but he was rarely present: Sarah was the true publisher of the Providence Gazette and County Journal. While working with her mother in Providence, Mary Katherine learned the business and worked as a typesetter, printer and journalist. The Goddards would also publish a newspaper in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Chronicle and Universal Advertiser. After Sarah’s death in 1770 and with William frequently traveling, Mary Katherine ran the business herself until 1774(2). She then joined her brother in Baltimore where they published the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, the first newspaper of Baltimore.
William was more interested in establishing a colonial postal system than the day-to-day work of publishing a newspaper, so Mary Katherine published the newspaper herself. She officially became the sole editor on May 10, 1775 when the masthead was changed to read “Published by M.K. Goddard.” The same year, she was named the postmistress of Baltimore, the first female postmistress in America(2,3).
The Maryland Journal was one of the first papers to report on the fighting at Lexington and Concord (“the shot heard ‘round the world) and under Mary Katherine’s control, the paper never missed an issue during the tumultuous war years. Mary Katherine also kept the mail system functioning, paying post riders with her own money if needed, and opened a bookbinding shop.
In 1789, she lost her position as postmistress because of her gender. She was told a woman would not be able to handle the amount of travel that would be required, and despite her petition endorsed by 200 prominent businessmen of Baltimore, the decision stood. She remained in Baltimore as proprietor of her bookstore until her death in 1816(2).
Mary Katherine’s life is evidence that women’s role in prominent historical events is too often forgotten. She reminds us to see history in a new way, a way the recognizes women’s contributions.
1. “Mary Katherine Goddard.” Virtualology.com.
2. “Mary Katherine Goddard (1738 – 1816).” National Women’s History Museum.
3. George, Christopher T. “Mary Katherine Goddard and Freedom of the Press.” Baltimore MD.com.
Photo from the NWHM
To learn more:
Young, Christopher J. “Mary K. Goddard: A Classical Republican in a Revolutionary Age,” Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 96, no. 1 (spring 2001).
Hudak, Leona M. Early American Women Printers and Publishers 1639-1820. Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1978.
Wroth, Lawrence. A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686-1776. Baltimore: General Books, 2010