Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mary Katharine Goddard, Publisher, Printer, and Patriot

Mary Katharine Goddard (born 16 June 1738)


To be absolutely honest, I never enjoyed studying the American Revolutionary War when I was in elementary school--that was so long ago that the story about the revolution was all George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and throwing coins across the Potomac, a few bits about Paul Revere, and a bunch of other founding myths that, even when I was a child, I just didn't buy.*

Mary Katharine Goddard,
printer, publisher, patriot
And I really hated that the only woman involved in the whole mess seemed to be Betsy Ross--who sewed! It didn't help that my mother was a great needlewoman and that I absolutely hated anything involving needles and thread. Even then I thought the story was crap, and now I know it is. (For the "myth" of Betsy Ross, click here.

But there are many really fascinating women's stories when it comes to the American Revolution--women who resisted the British, women who went to war as soldiers, women who were involved in revolutionary politics, women who followed the Continental Army and nursed, fed, and supported soldiers.

One of the most interesting of these figures, at least to me, is Mary Katharine Goddard, a publisher and printer--she printed the Declaration of Independence in 1777, and although she was the second printer to produce the Declaration, hers was the first printed version to include the names of the men who signed the document.

And, right there, underneath their names, was hers: "Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard."

Goddard was the daughter of Giles Goddard, a physician and the first postmaster of New London, Connecticut. Her mother, Sarah Updike Goddard, was herself a printer and, along with her son, co-founder and publisher of the Providence Gazette and Country Journal, a revolutionary journal, and the Maryland Journal, in Providence, Rhode Island. (Sarah Updike Goddard provided the money to start the business.)

Sarah Updike Goddard had been very well educated, taught French and Latin by a tutor in addition to basic reading and writing. Members of her family had emigrated to the colonies in the seventeenth century, and by the time Sarah was born, they were owners of substantial amounts of land and had served in a variety of public offices.  

Mary Katharine Goddard seems to have been educated by her mother. She worked with her mother and brother, William, in their printing business, but after her brother shut down the Gazette and left the business, the two women continued to publish. They produced an almanac and pamphlets under the imprint "S. and W. Goddard." They soon resumed publication of the Providence Gazette, naming the publisher as "Sarah Goddard & Company."

Eventually Sarah Goddard sold the business, and the two women joined William in Philadelphia, where Sarah Goddard once again invested money in her son's publishing effort, The Pennsylvania Chronicle. Again William left the city, moving on to Baltimore.

Meanwhile, the two women remained in Philadelphia publishing the Chronicle. After her mother's death in 1770, Sarah continued to publish the newspaper on her own. In 1774, she sold the Philadelphia paper and joined her brother in Baltimore, taking over as editor and publisher of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser.

She continued publication throughout the American Revolution. At the same time, in 1775, she became the postmaster of Baltimore, probably the first woman in the American colonies to serve in that role. In assessing Goddard's publications during the war, Petula Dvorak notes she, "print[ed] scoops from Revolutionary War battles from Concord to Bunker Hill and continu[ed] to publish after her offices were twice raided and her life was repeatedly threatened. . . ."

Goddard's printed
Declaration of Independence
In January 1777, responding to the Second Continental Congress's decision that the Declaration of Independence be widely distributed, she offered her press--despite the risks of publishing a document that was considered treasonous by the British.

Following a dispute with her brother, she was displaced as publisher of the Maryland Journal, but she did continue to publish on her own. 

She remained as postmaster until October 1789, when she was removed from that position and replaced by a man--the argument for replacing her was that a man would be able to travel! Her ouster from the role of postmaster seems to have caused turmoil and protest, but despite a petition signed by 230 citizens, that was that.

Mary Katharine Goddard continued to operate a bookstore for several more years. She died on 12 August 1816, aged 78.

For an excellent biographical essay, posted at the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame website, click here. There is also an entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, still mostly notable for not including women--but here it is, an entry on Mary Katharine Goddard!

For Petula Dvorak's essay, "This Woman's Name Appears on the Declaration of Independence. So Why Don't We Know Her Story?" (Washington Post), click here.

"Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard"

*George Washington couldn't lie about chopping down a cherry tree, but, as Mary V. Thompson notes, he had no problem lying about his slaves--"George Washington showed that he, a man whose reputation was built on honesty, would lie to protect property rights." Just saying . . .