Printing Woman of Distinction

Frank Romano
Sep 16, 2015

Jim Hamilton received an Indigo-printed calendar covering 12 women who changed the world. One of them was Ada Lovelace, who was the world’s first “programmer” for the Babbage computing engine. At the same time, I was at the EDSF fundraising event at Graph Expo where the Women of Distinction awards were bestowed by Julie and Andy Plata. There is also the Girls Who Print recognition. Jim’s question was “Who is the Ada Lovelace of the printing industry?”

 

Ada Lovelace (from the HP Indigo One of a Kind calendar of women who changed the world)

It just so happens that I had done a short article for the Museum of Printing newsletter on someone who is worthy of consideration. Who is she? Read on.

Mary Katherine Goddard is famous for printing the first copy of the Declaration of Independence that included the signers’ names. She was born in 1738 and later moved to Providence, Rhode Island at the age of 24, where her mother lent her brother William the money to begin a printing business.

Her mother, Sarah Updike Goddard, was the publisher of the Providence Gazette and Country Journal. Mary Katherine took a great interest in the business and worked as a typesetter, printer, and journalist. They added a bookbindery, and in addition to the Gazette, printed almanacs, pamphlets, and occasionally books. William left for Philadelphia in 1765, where he began another print shop and newspaper, with financial assistance from his mother. The women joined him there in 1768 and helped run the Philadelphia Chronicle and Universal Advertiser. After Sarah Goddard’s 1770 death, Mary Katherine kept the business running, as William was frequently jailed for public outbursts and articles in the paper.

In May 1773, William started a paper in Baltimore, while Mary Katherine ran the Philadelphia business until the following February, when the Philadelphia Chronicle was discontinued. Moving to Baltimore, she once more took over her younger brother’s newspaper. She put “Published by M.K. Goddard” on the masthead on May 10, 1775 and it remained there even when William returned from his travels in 1776. In 1775 she became the first female postmaster in colonial America. Being both postmistress and a newspaper printer enabled her to publish news more quickly than her competitors.

Unlike her brother, who used the paper to promote his own opinions, Mary Katherine Goddard applied a more objective, impersonal, and professional tone. During the revolutionary war, inflation hurt the printing business and so she ran a bookbindery to supplement her income and accepted food products from those who could not afford to pay their subscription to the paper.

She never missed an edition of the paper between 1775 and 1784 while America was in turmoil. Independence was declared in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1776, when the Declaration was voted by Congress. John Hancock famously led other members of the Continental Congress in signing the handwritten document. By doing so, these men were declaring their treason against the established government, and like all revolutionaries, they would have been executed had they been caught. Not all signers were as courageous as Hancock, however, and not all colonies were as rebellious as Massachusetts. For the next six months, printed copies of the Declaration of Independence circulated throughout the new nation without the signers’ names. But in January 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard published the first copy of the Declaration with their identities revealed. It was not only a big news scoop, it also had political impact in forcing the signers to match their words with deeds.

 

Mary Katherine Goddard

While the Founding Fathers went on to the fame she literally thrust on them, Mary Katherine Goddard sank into obscurity. In 1784, her name disappeared from the Journal, as William forced his sister to quit.

In 1789, the year that the U.S. Constitution was adopted, Mary Katherine Goddard was forced out of her Baltimore postal position in favor of a male appointee. Women in some colonies lost some rights with the new federal government, but women continued to run post offices in other places. But Baltimore was a big city and this was a highly-sought patronage position.

She appealed to George Washington and the U.S. Congress about the injustice, and over 200 Baltimore businessmen endorsed her petition, but nothing changed. She spent the remaining years of her life running a bookstore in Baltimore. She died in 1816, having been a trailblazer in both printing and postal service.

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