“He carries every point, who blends the useful with the agreeable, amusing the reader while he instructs him.”
— the English translation of the Goddard family motto.
She was elder of two children born to Sarah Updike Goddard and Dr. Giles Goddard. Mary Katherine and her brother William learned to read and write at their New London, Connecticut home. Their mother also taught them “Latin, French, and the literary classics.” [WHMN.org] Shakespeare, Pope and Swift were favorite reading assignments.
When Mary Katherine was 19 her father passed away. The family stayed in Connecticut for a few years while William was apprenticed to a local printer, but in 1762 they moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and Sarah Goddard lent William the money to start his own printing business. All three members of the family pitched in to help establish the business.
William was ostensibly in charge, (but) he traveled a great deal, and it was Sarah Updike Goddard who was the true publisher of the Providence Gazette and Country Journal. Mary Katherine took a great interest in the business and forewent many of the usual activities for young ladies to work as a typesetter, printer, and journalist. The mother/daughter team made their print shop a hub of activity at a time when newspapers exerted great political influence. They added a bookbindery, and in addition to the Gazette, printed almanacs, pamphlets, and occasionally books.[WHMN.org]
In 1765 William left Rhode Island for the more metropolitan Philadelphia. Mary Katherine took over the printing operation in Providence.
…Left with a burden upon her shoulders, Mary Katherine acquired the skills she needed to print a successful publication. “It was probably during the years of [William’s] absence… that his sister… learned the practical side of typography and journalism… ” Lawrence C. Wroth wrote.[University of Rhode Island web site URI.edu]
Three years later William asked the two women to sell the Providence business (They sold the Gazette, press and building for $550) and move to Pennsylvania to help him with the Philadelphia Chronicle.Upon their arrival they ran the newspaper and press and William headed to Baltimore, Maryland on a new venture. Mary Katherine followed him again in 1774 when she took over her brother’s weekly publications the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser as he continued to travel.
With her mother dead and her brother prioritizing his political inclinations, Mary Katherine Goddard finally assumed the title of publisher of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser. She put “Published by M.K. Goddard” on the masthead on May 10, 1775 — and it remained there even when William returned from his New Hampshire-to-Georgia travels in 1776. [WHMN.org]
She also became a postmaster in 1775 — the first woman in the colonies to do so. As postmaster she was at the “center of the information exchange.” [Ibid] and was privy to the news before her competitors. The Journal broke important news stories (like the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord).Mary Katherine kept the tone of the Journal professional. Other newspapers — and William — editorialized and included op eds that advanced political agendas. “Mary Katherine Goddard used a more objective, impersonal, and professional tone.” [Ibid]
She was a shrewd business woman who accepted alternate forms of payment when the taxes or the War made cash subscription payments difficult.
These included beef, pork, animal food, butter, hog’s lard, tallow, beeswax, flour, wheat, rye, Indian corn, beans and other goods she could sell in her shop. [University of Rhode Island web site URI.edu]
She ran a stationary and printing press where fine printing was produced. She also had a local paper mill.
Mary Katherine biggest scoop as a newspaper woman came in January of 1777 when her press printed the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the signers.She successfully ran both the publication and the related printing and paper companies AND served as postmaster through out the long Revolutionary War. But things changed in 1784. She had a falling out with William and he forced her off the paper’s staff. Then in 1789 Mary Katherine was forced to give up her postmaster position. As a woman — it was as argued — she could not handle the traveling the job would demand. Her appeals — backed by a petition of endorsement signed by over 200 Baltimore businessmen — went to President Washington and Congress but got nowhere. She resigned her self to running her bookstore.
Mary Katherine Goddard died att he age of 78 on April 12, 1816. “A copy of the Declaration of Independence printed by her is at the Maryland Hall of Records.”[WHMN.org]
- The first American postmistress (female postmaster) and the first to print the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signatories was born today in 1738. Now WE know em (nowweknowem.com)