Meet Mary Katherine Goddard, printer and postmaster to the Second Continental Congress in Baltimore.
Women have achieved much in the 21st century. It is still largely a man’s world, but women are breaking through the glass ceilings and achieving great things in the business world. The opportunities for women today were made possible by the pioneering female business leaders of the past, like Mary Katherine Goddard, the first woman publisher in the US who is known for printing the first copy of the Declaration of Independence that has the names of all the signatories.
Early Life and Career
Born on June 16, 1738, Mary grew up in New London, Connecticut. She learnt mathematics from her mother and went to New London’s public school to study French, Latin, and science. Since she was a girl, she could only attend school for only an hour every day after the boys finished their classes.
Mary got her first taste for business when she joined her brother William Goddard in Rhode Island to help him run his printing office. Her brother was impulsive and used to travel extensively to start several newspapers, often leaving his widowed mother and his sister to run the businesses he left behind. Mary became the publisher of Maryland Journal, which was Baltimore’s first newspaper, and she built a reputation for herself as an efficient and dependable editor.
Facing Challenges with Courage
Mary’s reputation earned her the chance to print the Declaration of Independence. The act of printing this document was fraught with danger at the time because the war was still being waged against the British. The first copy that congress commissioned to be printed didn’t even have the names of all the signatories because they were afraid of attacks from the British. The copy that Mary printed not only had the names of all the signatories, but she also boldly added that it was printed by Mary Katherine Goddard, instead of using “M.K. Goddard,” the usual way she signed her newspapers.
Printing a newspaper during the war was also full of challenges. There were shortages all around, but Mary managed to publish her paper consistently. She used innovative business practices by accepting payments in the form of flour, beef, pork, lard, butter, or beeswax. Congress was strapped for cash and Mary often did not receive her pay, but she still managed by paying the post riders herself.
Facing Personal Challenges and Sexism
Mary’s work as a publisher came to an end after her brother forced her out of the business and took over the operations of Maryland Journal. The siblings had a falling out and never reconciled after that incident.
In 1775, Mary became the postmaster of Baltimore, which was the first time for a woman to hold such a position and the job also made her one of the first female employees of the US government. After serving the country for 14 years, Mary was removed from this position by the then Postmaster General Samuel Osgood to appoint a political ally in her place. Osgood gave a sexist reason for her removal and said that the job required extensive travel that was not suitable for a woman.
Love for Mary in Baltimore
Mary’s removal was widely protested. 200 prominent people in Baltimore wrote letters to have her reinstated, but their efforts failed. As an editor, Mary could have used her position and influence to rally support, but she did not try to publicly fight the removal.
The only effort Mary made to get her job back was write letters to President George Washington and the US Senate. In one of her letters, she pointed out that she was getting “poor rewards” after serving the country faithfully “in the worst of times.” The President did not help, and the Senate didn’t even reply to her letter.
After leaving her job as postmaster, Mary ran a bookstore from 1784 to 1809 or 1810. She sold books, stationery, and dry goods in her shop that was located at Baltimore’s Market Square. The pioneer in the American publishing industry died on Aug. 12, 1816 at the age of 78, and she was buried in the cemetery of St. Paul’s Church. She was never married, and she left her estate to her servant Belinda Starling.
Mary’s name isn’t mentioned in many history books in schools across America, but a group of women who called themselves the Daughters of the American Revolution honored her a few years after her death, and the group named a chapter after her. Her name was also inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
The pioneering efforts of people like Mary, who managed to succeed despite the odds, has had a lasting impact in the US. The publishing world today is full of female leaders who are making a name for themselves while contributing to the growth of the industry. What was once a business that was mainly for men, is dominated by women today.
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