Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mary Katherine Goddard

Today’s Awesome Woman of the Day is Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816) printer, newspaper publisher, and postmaster. Mary Katherine Goddard was a pioneer among women in Baltimore town in the era of the American Revolution. She was a newspaper editor determined to publish the truth as well as a fighter for the right of women to pursue a career.

She was born on June 16, 1738, in either Groton or New London, Connecticut, in the British Colonies in North America and she grew up in New London. She was the daughter of Dr. Giles Goddard and Sarah Updike Goddard, a woman unusually well educated for that era. Dr. Goddard was the postmaster of New London, explaining why son William and daughter Mary Katherine also had lifelong involvement with the postal system. After her father died in 1762, Mary moved with her mother to Providence, Rhode Island, to help her brother, William, run a printing office. This is also where both mother and daughter began their careers as printers.

In 1765, William moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to open another printing shop, while Mary and her mother remained in Providence to operate the business by themselves. In 1766, they started publishing the Providence Gazette and they issued the West's Almanack. Then, in 1768, they sold the business and joined William in Philadelphia where Mary helped her brother in publishing the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

In 1773, William moved yet again to set up another printing shop in Baltimore, Maryland, while Mary continued operating the business in Pennsylvania before selling it in 1774. Mary joined her brother in Baltimore and took over the operations in the publishing of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser, Baltimore's first newspaper. The paper gave Baltimoreans their first taste of a local newspaper. It charmed, informed, and educated. Among the best newspapers in the colonies, its entertainment and educational content were typified by the motto the Goddards adopted--a Latin couplet by Horace, which translated meant: "He carries every point who blends the useful with the agreeable, amusing the reader while he instructs him."

The May 10, 1775 issue of the Maryland Journal made official what had been in practice for over a year when the colophon was changed to read, “Published by M. K. Goddard.” Mary Katherine proved to be a steady, impersonal newspaper editor and during the Revolution she was usually Baltimore’s only printer. On July 12, 1775, the Journal printed a three-column account of the Battle of Bunker Hill less than a month after it happened. Apparently it was a scoop at the time. From her press, in January 1777, came the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the signers. Mary Katherine Goddard was also responsible for issuing several Almanacs, while in Baltimore, which now hold a place in the Maryland Historical Society. Then in 1784, following an argument with her brother, Mary Goddard left the printing and publishing business.

In 1775, Mary Katherine became postmaster of Baltimore, probably the first woman so appointed in the colonies, and certainly the only one to hold so important a post after the Declaration of Independence. She continued in the office for fourteen years until in October 1789 when, much against her will, she was relieved on the ground that someone was needed who could visit and superintend the Southern department of the postal system. The authorities believed that this responsibility involved more traveling than a woman could manage. The esteem in which Goddard was held is revealed by the fact that over two hundred of the leading businessmen of Baltimore endorsed her petition to the Postmaster General to retain her position. Remaining in Baltimore, she continued to operate, until 1809 or 1810, the bookshop she had begun as an adjunct of the printing business.

Because Mary Katherine did not engage in public controversies but remained an impersonal editor, there are few statements that reflect her personal point of view. Her brother described her as, “an expert and correct compositor of types,” and respect for her abilities as a postmaster is shown in letters by such diverse people as Ebenezer Hazard and Thomas Jefferson.

Mary Katherine Goddard was a successful businessperson of the eighteenth century who turned enterprises begun by her undependable brother into financial successes. She was the most acclaimed female publisher during the American Revolution. Her reputation for quality work spread far beyond the cities where her newspapers were produced. In the end, she was forced to live in near-poverty when she lost her government job because of limitations set on women of her day.

Mary Katherine Goddard died on August 12,1816, at the age of 78, a woman of achievement who had taken an important stand for freedom of speech and the rights of women in the young United States.