Founding Mothers - Mary Katharine Goddard

Mary Katharine Goddard

Born: June 16, 1738 (New London, Connecticut)

Died: August 12, 1816 (Baltimore, Maryland)


Happy Mother's Day!  In honor of the special women in each of our lives, I thought it would be interesting to take a slight detour from our usual study and look at the only woman's name to have found its way onto the Declaration of Independence.  While not a voting member of the Continental Congress nor a signer, Mary Katharine Goddard was nevertheless an important figure during the birth of our nation.  Born in New London, Connecticut, Mary was the oldest child of Dr. Giles Goddard, who served as the town's postmaster, and his wife, Sarah.  She had a brother who was two years younger, William, who became an apprentice in the printing trade while he was young.  Upon the death of Dr. Goddard in 1762 his widow and daughter relocated to Providence, Rhode Island where William had opened up his own printing office with the financial support of his mother.  After learning the business the two women worked their family business for six years, printing the very first newspaper in the city, a weekly publication called the Providence Gazette.  In 1768 the two sold the business and moved once again to Philadelphia, where William had moved a year earlier to start printing that city's first newspaper, the Philadelphia Chronicle, in partnership with Benjamin Franklin and others. 

When Sarah Goddard died in 1770, Mary Katharine Goddard became the primary manager of the printing house as her brother traveled frequently and also found himself jailed on numerous occasions, often for printing his own inflammatory political opinions.  By 1773 the siblings decided to sell their interest in the Philadelphia location in favor of relocating to Baltimore, Maryland, but Mary remained in the city until the shop was closed the following February.  In the meanwhile, William was once again credited with publishing the very first newspaper in a major city, the Maryland Journal, but Mary kept the business running while he traveled to promote another publication named the Constitutional Post.  The following year, 1775, was momentous for the enterprising woman as she was named the postmaster of Baltimore, the position her father had once held in her hometown, and the official label of the printing business dropped William's name and was changed to read "Published by M.K. Goddard".  She is generally recognized as the first female postmaster in the colonies, and later also the first in the United States.

Mary Katharine Goddard was strongly opposed to the Stamp Act, as she recognized its effects on printing costs, but perhaps because of her brother's previous arrests she was not quick to publish her own views on the matter.  After the Continental Congress voted for independence, however, the British forced their retreat from Philadelphia to Baltimore.  As both a printer and postmistress, Goddard was uniquely positioned to serve Congress as their official printer and also release breaking news quickly to the public.  Although a print of the Declaration's text had already been circulated throughout the colonies, they requested that Mary's publishing house release a second version with the names of the signers included.  When she agreed to print the version that would publicize the identities of all the men who had voted for independence, she also took the brave step to print her own full name rather than simply her initials.  In doing so, she joined the ranks of our Founding Fathers in threatening their own livelihoods by committing treason against the Crown.

The ensuing war was hard on business, prompting Goddard to open a bookbinding business and bookstore to supplement her income, but she was able to continue operating as a publisher until 1784.  That year William returned to Baltimore and forced her out of business, despite numerous lawsuits she filed against him.  Eventually she sold her remaining interest in the newspaper she had operated for several years and cut ties completely with her rival sibling.  When the Constitution was signed in 1789 the nation's new Postmaster General, Samuel Osgood, decided that the job Goddard had performed for so many years was too strenuous for a woman and decided to replace her.  Despite an outcry and petition from over 200 leading men of Baltimore, including Governor John Eager Howard, President Washington declined to intervene in the political decisions.  Goddard was forced to resign her position but remained in Baltimore to run her book shop until the early years of the 19th century.  She retired in 1810 and passed away six years later at the age of 78.  The trailblazer was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame in 1998.

The name of Mary Katharine Goddard can be found centered at the very bottom of the Goddard Broadside print of the Declaration of Independence.



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