Mary Katherine Goddard was a pioneer woman in print who is unfortunately not well known today, despite her accomplishments and her attempts to fight against the patriarchal society in which she lived. She was a smart and gifted printer who was underappreciate, disrespected, and ultimately pushed out by the controlling men in her industry. However, she had a deep love for print and writing, and against all the odds made a name for herself in the printing industry.
Mary was born in Connecticut on June 16th 1738, to parents Sarah Updike and Giles Goddard, and as the older sister of William Goddard. Her mother homeschooled both children, teaching them Latin, French, and classic literature. So, even from an early age she and her brother were raised around words which is where their interests in literature and language began. When Mary was just nineteen her father passed away in 1757, leaving behind a valuable estate for the family. In 1752 the family moved to Providence, Rhode Island, which is where Mary began her career in the print industry (“National Women’s History Museum”).
William Goddard borrowed money from his mother in order to set up a printing business, which produced the Providence Gazette and Country Journal. However, William spent most of his time travelling so it was his mother who operated and ran the print shop. Mary was 24 years old when she too began to take an interest in the family company and she began working with her mother as a typesetter, printer and journalist (“National Women’s History Museum”).
In 1765 William decided to move to Philadelphia and opened another print shop there. Mary and their mother followed him and helped him to publish the Philadelphia Chronical and Universal Advertiser. When Mary was 32 their mother passed away, and even though the publication was in her brother’s name, Mary was the one who ran the shop alone while he was travelling. Under her care it became one of the biggest print shops in the area (“National Women’s History Museum”).
After only having the Philadelphia shop for nine years, William decide he wanted to move again, and in 1773 he went to Baltimore and established Baltimore’s first newspaper the Maryland Journal. A year later Mary closed their Philadelphia shop and followed her brother to Baltimore (“Mary Katherine Goddard”, 2001). As with all the times before, Mary controlled and cared for their business for her brother, this time he was distracted and working towards his political aspirations (“National Women’s History Museum”). Even though Mary was doing all the work, her brother was getting the official credit. During this time is was incredibly difficult for women to establish themselves as serious writers or printers of any kind. But she continued to work because it was the job she loved, even if she was not credited for it.
But, in 1775 that all began to change. First, on the May 10th issue of the Maryland Journal, the colophon read that it was published by M.K Goddard (“Mary Katherine Goddard”, 2001). She likely published under the pseudonym because it would not have been very acceptable at the time for a woman to be publishing, and by writing under a name that could pass for a man’s it kept people interested. That same year that Mary began to publish under her own name, she also was given the honour of being the first female postmaster in America (“Mary Katherine Goddard”, 2001). As Chris Young describes she became the “center of the information exchange,” (Qtd. In: “National Women’s History Museum”). With this position she was not only printing her own newspapers and the other works, but also had influence in the mail service, which is why she functioned as a communication hub. Her abilities as a postmaster and a printer meant that she could publish information quickly and was often informed of things before her competitors. This ability to send and receive information quickly gave her an edge during the American Revolution. Where many printers missed days and had delayed information, Mary was able to print continuously, never missing an issue between 1775 and 1784 (“National Women’s History Museum”).
Most people in the world know or have at least heard of the Declaration of Independence. A document declaring that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and it was signed by thirteen states on July 4th 1776 (“The Declaration of Independence”). It was a revolutionary document that changed the way America functioned.
Despite how important this document was, for a long while after it was signed, copies of it were circulated without the names of the people who signed it. But, in January of 1777 Mary Katherine Goddard was the first person to attain and print a copy of the Declaration of Independence that had the signatures names. It was not just a massive scoop of news for her to gain access to, but her circulation of the full version of the document was politically impactful because it made everyone aware of who signed the document and forced those people to actually own up to what they said and match their deeds to those beliefs (“National Women’s History Museum”). But it was also a risk for her, as the printing of the document could be considered treason by the British government (“Flashback Photo”, 2014).
Above is a copy of the version of the Declaration of Independence that Mary printed and circulated. For her to print this and to have done it as a woman during the time period, was a powerful message on many fronts. It proved that a woman could gain access to information that even most men did not possess at the time, and that she could publish this important document with her own skills and merit, despite the risk to herself.
After her unforgettable act of printing the Declaration and the brief moment of fame it brought her, Mary Katherine Goddard’s name began to fade. In 1784 her name stopped appearing on the Maryland Journal. It is thought that her older brother William was jealous of her success and since it was his print operation he forced her to quit her work. There is a record of 5 lawsuits that she filed against her brother (“National Women’s History Museum”). For years William had taken advantage of his sister, she was doing all the work but he received much of the credit and did not really seem to pay much attention to her work. But, when she began publishing under her own name, printed the Declaration of Independence, and was really beginning to make a name for herself, it seems he began to notice. Because of the gender inequality of the time he was easily able to remove Mary’s name from the colophon on the Maryland Journal, replacing it with his own, and to stop her from working for him.
Mary’s brother was not the only man who felt that, as a woman, Mary had too much freedom and power. In 1789 she was forced out of her position as Baltimore postmaster, in favour of a male worker. The reason they gave for her removal of position was that the job format was changing and would require a lot more travel; something they felt was beyond a woman’s capabilities at the time (“Mary Katherine Goddard”, 2001).
Mary, being the strong, independent woman that she was refused to go quietly. She appealed to George Washington and Congress. She even had 200 Baltimore businessmen sign her petition (“Mary Katherine Goddard”, 2001) which proved that she was well respected by other members of the community. In the petition Mary described all of her hard work and effort that went into her position, explained that she had done nothing wrong, and wrote about how unfairly she was treated in not being provided with any true reason for her removal. It also stated that she is just as capable, if not more so, than Mr. White (the man who was replacing her) or any other person that might be appointed to the office (“First Federal Congress”, 2000). Unfortunately her appeal was never granted and her name continued to fade.
She never married nor had any children. She returned to her own smaller side business of running a small dry good store and a stationary business until 1810. As well as continuing to run a bookstore until her death in 1816, at the age of 78 (“Mary Katherine Goddard”, 2012).
Mary Katherine Goddard was a strong and respectable woman. She was revolutionary in that she was a single female business woman at a time in history when women were greatly oppressed by the patriarchal and misogynist society in which they lived. She dedicated her entire life to her career and her love of print. She learned the trade from working at her brother’s businesses, she began to make a name for herself when she put her name on the colophon, and she gained notoriety when she became the first woman in America to be given the position of postmaster and being the first person, male or female, to print the Declaration of Independence with signatures of the men who signed it. Even though she was removed from her position of power she proved that a woman was more than capable of working in the print industry, and remains an important feminist icon in the world of the print industry.