News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 14, 2012

BRUCE’S HISTORY LESSONS: Mary Goddard: A woman of many firsts

Bruce Kauffman
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Mary Katherine Goddard, born this week (June 16) in 1738, in Connecticut (birthplace town not recorded), was a woman of many firsts. After moving to Providence, R.I., in 1762, Mary, her mother and her brother William established a printing business, but when William left to start up another print shop in Philadelphia, Mary decided to start a newspaper. In 1766, with her mother’s help, she began publishing The Providence Gazette, making her America’s first official female newspaper publisher.

Mary ran the Gazette for two years before selling it and joining her brother in Philadelphia, where she helped him publish The Pennsylvania Chronicle until William again moved, to Baltimore, MD. There he set up another print shop and in 1773 established The Maryland Journal, which became a leading voice in the call for America to seek independence from Great Britain.  

And once again Mary followed him, selling the Chronicle in 1774 and moving to Baltimore to help run the Journal. The next year, 1775, Mary was listed as both the editor and publisher on the Journal’s masthead, and in June of that year the Journal scored something of a “scoop” by being the first paper to publish a detailed account of what is now considered the first pitched battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Bunker Hill.

And in 1775, Mary added another “first” to her resume by becoming postmaster of the Baltimore Post Office, the first woman to hold a postmaster position in America.  Mary would distinguish herself in that job for 14 years until U.S. Postmaster Samuel Osgood removed her in order to give the position to a political crony.

In protest, some 250 citizens of Baltimore, including more than 200 of the city’s leading businessmen, drew up a petition demanding that she be reinstated — alas, unsuccessfully.

But it was her final two “firsts” that were the most important. When, in January of 1777, America’s Continental Congress decreed that the Declaration of Independence should be printed and widely circulated, Mary offered to do the printing, despite the fact that the British considered the Declaration a treasonous document, meaning that anyone associated it was a traitor and therefore subject to harsh reprisals. Undaunted, Mary became the second American printer to publish the Declaration, but the first to publish it with the typeset names of all of the document’s signatories.

Those signatories included 56 courageous men, most prominently its author, Thomas Jefferson, as well as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and, in bold script, John Hancock.  

Also included was one courageous woman. As publisher, Mary decided to print her own name at the bottom of the document, making her — in a way — not just the first, but the only woman signatory.

Bruce G. Kauffmann’s email address is bruce@historylessons.net.