Goddard, Mary Katherine (1738–1816)

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Goddard, Mary Katherine (1738–1816)

American printer, first woman postmaster in the U.S., and publisher, who is best known for making the Maryland Journal a successful enterprise . Born Mary Katherine Goddard on August 6, 1738, in either Groton or New London, Connecticut; died in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 12, 1816; daughter of Dr. Giles (a physician and postmaster, c. 1703–January 31, 1757) and Sarah (Updike) Goddard (c. 1700–January 5, 1770); learned at home and on-the-job training at printer's office; never married; no children.

With mother, moved to Providence, Rhode Island, to assist brother in printing business (1763); helped brother publish the Pennsylvania Chronicle (1768–74); joined brother at his new shop in Baltimore (1773); managed the print shop and the publication of the Maryland Journal (1774–84); published books, pamphlets, almanacs, and broadsides; established bookbindery; served as postmaster for Baltimore (1775–89); upon leaving printing business (1784), continued to operate a bookstore to about 1809. Publications: numerous imprints, which includes the first official publication of the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signers.

Women of early America frequently assisted their husbands in their places of business and, during their absences, assumed managerial responsibility. Widows and other single women were proprietors of shops and were represented in most trades. Unmarried, Mary Katherine Goddard assisted her brother in the printing business and, for long periods of time, managed the shop herself. Lawrence C. Wroth writes that Goddard should be thought of "not simply as a business executive whose part was to direct the labor of others, but as a craftsman whose manual labor was a considerable element in determining the success of her establishment."

Mary Katherine Goddard was one of two surviving children (two died in infancy) of Dr. Giles Goddard, a prosperous physician and postmaster, and Sarah Updike Goddard , a woman of Dutch-English ancestry. Soon after their daughter's birth, the Goddards moved from Groton, Connecticut, across the Thames River

to New London. Mary Katherine may have attended an elementary school for brief periods as did her brother William (1740–1817). Most likely she was taught chiefly at home. As Isaiah Thomas notes, Goddard's mother "received a good education" and "acquired an acquaintance with several branches of useful and polite learning." Mary Katherine's adult life would be linked with the career of her brother, with whom she acquired on-the-job training as a printer.

On July 1, 1762, William Goddard, who served as a journeyman printer in New Haven and New York City, opened a printing shop in Providence, Rhode Island, with £300 borrowed from his mother. On October 20, he began publishing the Providence Gazette and Country Journal. Mary Katherine and her mother Sarah moved to Providence the following year, and both women assisted William in the printing business and issuing the newspaper. In 1765, leaving his mother and sister to run the Providence business, William went to work in the printing office of John Holt in New York City while also attempting to establish a press at Woodbridge, New Jersey.

At Providence, the printing firm was reconstituted as Sarah Goddard & Company, with partners including Mary Katherine and several others. The newspaper became a vigorous advocate of the American cause against Great Britain. Besides the newspaper, the printing shop turned out almanacs, broadsides, pamphlets, and legal and business forms; it also engaged in the retail trade of books, stationery, and patent medicines. Topping the list of publications were The Main Point, a theological pamphlet by Timothy Allen, and the New England Almanac by Benjamin West.

Mary Katherine Goddard diligently learned the printing trade, despite its being physically tasking. Type had to be sorted out and placed on the press. With an apron constantly blackened by printer's ink (made of varnish or linseed oil boiled with resin and lampblack), Goddard had to tug at the lever of a heavy wooden press in order to make each impression; it took ten hours operation to print 1,000 sheets. To print a four-page, folio newspaper required four days work. Mother and daughter had a rough time trying to make the newspaper a success and never obtained the 800 subscribers that were necessary to make the newspaper profitable.

In November 1766, again with financial support from his mother, William Goddard opened a printing establishment in Philadelphia, in partnership with Joseph Galloway, speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and Thomas Wharton, a Quaker merchant. The Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, which was to be editorially slanted against the Proprietary Party (supporters of the Penn family continuing as the proprietors of the colony), made its appearance on January 6, 1767. It was the fourth English-language newspaper in Philadelphia, and the first to use four columns per page. In November 1768, Sarah and Katherine sold the Providence shop and joined William's Philadelphia firm. Besides assisting in the manual work, Mary Katherine kept the accounts of the shop and also attended to most of the business details.

With her brother spending little time at the Philadelphia shop, Goddard turned the Chronicle into one of the most successful newspapers in the colonies, with 2,500 subscribers by 1770. William still set the editorial policy, however, and soon grew tired of taking directions from Galloway and Wharton. A bitter feud erupted, and Galloway and Wharton sold their interest to Benjamin Towne, who, like his predecessors, continued to inject political partisanship into the newspaper. Towne, however, was forced out of the firm in January 1770, undoubtedly due to Mary Katherine's influence; with her mother Sarah dying at that time, Goddard inherited a one-half financial share in the firm.

That year, William published a pamphlet, The Partnership, in which he castigated Galloway and Wharton for attempting to ruin the Chronicle. According to William, Galloway tried to get Mary Katherine to sell her interest in the printing establishment for a trifle, telling her: "You have no friends here—you would live much happier in New England and may make something for yourself by a sale of this interest." Goddard, however, "Saw his baseness, and that he was a man who could smile with a dagger in his hand," and "told him that she knew the business was very valuable and that she should listen to no such proposals."

On May 12, 1773, William opened a print shop on the corner of South and Baltimore streets in Baltimore, where he inaugurated the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, the first newspaper in the city, which made its appearance on August 20. Both brother and sister hoped to have a dual publishing venture—in Philadelphia and Baltimore. The Philadelphia Chronicle, however, began to experience great competition, and Mary Katherine shut down the Philadelphia shop in February 1774 and joined in her brother's printing venture in Baltimore.

That February 17, the Maryland Journal announced that William was "on a very important mission," one that would occupy him throughout the Revolutionary War. Mary Katherine now assumed sole responsibility for the printing shop and the newspaper publication; starting on May 10, 1775, the newspaper's colophon stated: "Published by M.K. Goddard." Meanwhile, William was setting about the task of creating single-handedly an intercolonial postal service that would challenge the British-operated system: "Goddard's Post Office" extended from Casco Bay, Maine, to Williamsburg, Virginia. On July 26, 1775, the Continental Congress took over William's postal network, and, much to William's disappointment, Benjamin Franklin became postmaster general. William received the lowly appointment, at $100 a year, of Surveyor of the Post Office. The position entailed traveling in order to inspect the various components of the postal system. On August 12, 1775, Mary Katherine was named "postmistress" of Baltimore. Among her duties was to print postal schedules and notices of unclaimed letters in the newspaper. Goddard thus became the first female postmaster serving under the U.S. government.

With war inflation, Goddard's newspaper had to raise yearly subscription rates from 10 shillings in 1773 to £10 in 1777. Even so, Mary Katherine's Maryland Journal thrived and an issue of November 16, 1779, would declare its circulation was "as extensive as any." Her main competition, John Dunlap's Maryland Gazette, or Baltimore General Advertiser, which began in 1775, folded in four years.

A Baltimore citizen could visit the print shop and expect to find a wide assortment of goods for sale at bargain prices. People often paid for subscriptions with commodities. A notice of December 15, 1778, said that payment could be in form of "Beef, Pork, or any Kind of Animal Food, Butter, Hog's Lard, Tallow, Bees-Wax, Flour, Wheat, Rye, Indian Corn, Beans, Buck-Wheat, Barley, Hops, Oats, Vegetables, Flax Seed, Wood Charcoal, tann'd Sheepskins, brown Linen, Linsey Woolsey, Feathers, Linen and Cotton Rags." In addition, the shop had well-stocked shelves of dry goods, stationery, and books.

On December 11, 1776, Goddard had announced that she was entering into the bookbinding business, and two years later, the shop could boast an addition—"a complete and elegant Bookbinding Room." Mary Katherine was always in need of linen thread to sew the sides of books and vellum to be used for the covers. Not only did the bookbinding help Goddard accomplish an integration of her book publishing under one roof, but it also allowed people from the community to bring in materials to be bound. Goddard had become a versatile entrepreneur: editor, printer, publisher, bookbinder, merchant, and postmaster. Under authorization from Congress, she printed, in January 1777, the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence bearing the names of the signatories. This documents carries the inscription: "Baltimore in Maryland Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard." By November of 1783, the Maryland Journal began twice a week publication, and the following year Goddard inaugurated delivery service.

Isaiah Thomas">

She was an expert and correct compositor of types, and ably conducted the printing house of her brother during the time he was engaged in other concerns.

—Isaiah Thomas

One advantage that Goddard had over any competition was the ready access to paper. On April 8, 1777, she announced that paper would be secured from a new mill at Elkridge Landing, near Baltimore. William Goddard and Eleazer Oswald as partners established this paper mill, which had a monopoly on paper manufacturing in Maryland. Both men published a disclaimer in the Journal that the new firm would not interfere with the printing business of Mary Katherine, "who, it must be acknowledged, hath supported her Business with Spirit and Address, amidst a Complication of Difficulties." Frequently Goddard advertised in her newspaper that she would pay cash or commodities for linen rags, which would be used in the production of paper.

Although Goddard's Journal had a caption of "Free and of NO PARTY," with brother William occasionally dropping by to lend a hand as to what content was published, it was inevitable that he and Mary Katherine would be involved in heated controversy with segments of the community. William, though brilliant and an able printer, often was given to determined opinions and invective. Mary Katherine, however, was capable herself of offending some local citizens. On June 3, 1776, the Baltimore Committee of Safety considered a complaint from Mary Katherine that George Sommerville "came to her office and abused her with threats and indecent language on account of a late publication in her paper." The Committee, "conceiving it to be their duty to inquire into everything that has a tendency to restrain the liberty of the Press," had Sommerville brought before it, and ordered him "censured" and placed under bond for future good behavior.

On February 26, 1777, the Journal had published an anonymous essay (actually written by Samuel Chase), which tongue-in-cheek advised Americans to accept British peace terms. A local super-patriotic body, the Whig Club, failed to see the irony in the essay, and a delegation visited Goddard intent on having her divulge the name of the author. She refused and referred the inquisitors to her brother. Brought forcibly before the Club, William was ordered to leave the town within 24 hours and the state within three days. He complied but went directly to the Maryland Assembly in Annapolis, where he received a legislative denunciation of the Club's highhandedness as "a manifest Violation of the Constitution, directly contrary to the Declaration of Rights." William also responded by writing a pamphlet condemning the Whig Club, which Mary Katherine printed. Ruffians assaulted William, and again he was ordered to leave town. Goddard sought out the town guard to obtain protection for William. This being in vain, the Goddards again appealed to the Maryland government, whereupon the Assembly ordered the culprits punished, and the governor provided protection to William. Both brother and sister were determined to uphold freedom of the press.

Two years later, a publication in the Journal caused another confrontation over freedom of the press. Goddard, probably at William's urging, printed Charles Lee's "Some Queries, Political, and Military, Humbly Offered to the Considerations of the Public." Lee had a score to settle with George Washington, whom he blamed for forcing him out of the army after the battle of Monmouth in 1778. The "Queries" denigrated Washington's abilities and his indispensability to the American cause. A mob led by Continental army officers seized William at his home, gave him a drumhead trial out-of-doors, under the threat of lynching, and, therefore, he had no choice but to print an apology in the Journal. This being done, William then followed up in a later issue with a recantation of the apology. Still, with the likelihood of further physical intimidation, William refused to back down. He and Mary Katherine both appealed to the governor and council for protection. No assistance, however, was forthcoming. Meanwhile, Lee submitted even more vitriolic material. This time, Goddard put her foot down and refused publication. The controversy in the community subsided. Lee expressed gratitude for the printing of the first set of queries by giving the Goddards power of attorney to sell his Virginia estate, and when he died in 1782 he left William one-sixth of the property.

Mary Katherine's print shop continued its varied production, which now included regular runs of playbills for the Baltimore theater. As it was for other printers, publication of almanacs was a profitable mainstay. In 1779, she began publication of her own almanac: The Maryland Almanac for the Year of Our Lord, 1780, followed by The Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North-Carolina Almanack, and Ephemeris, For the Year of our Lord, 1781. She also sold almanacs printed in German.

The relationship between brother and sister deteriorated. Mary Katherine kept William at arms length, convinced that he would interfere with her printing business. When William Goddard and Eleazer Oswald planned in 1781 to set up shop to print inexpensive editions of European classics, they announced that they did not intend to encroach on Mary Katherine's business and that they wished "the Printress of the MARYLAND JOURNAL, &c. may meet with that Encouragement from the PUBLIC, which her Assiduity and Care shall merit." Nothing came of this proposed venture, and the two men started assisting Goddard in her shop.

Eventually the Goddards decided to go their own ways. He apparently bought out her interest, with an understanding that she continue with some of the book printing. When they each published their own almanacs with the exact same title in 1784, William was resentful of the competition and published an attack on his sister: "Observing a spurious Performance, containing a mean, vulgar and common-place Selection of Articles.… I find myself obliged to in form the Public, that the above-mentioned spurious double-faced Almanack, is" by "a certain hypocritical Character, for the dirty and mean Purpose of FRAUD and DECEPTION." Interestingly, the colophon of the Maryland Journal for January 2, 1784, read: "Printed by William and Mary Katherine Goddard, at the Post-Office, in Market Street"; in the next issue, four days later, Mary Katherine's name was dropped. With their estrangement deepening, Goddard became embittered over the terms of her financial settlement with William and instituted five suits against him; the details and outcome of the litigation, however, are unknown.

Leaving the printing business in 1784, Goddard devoted her time to her postmaster duties and to operating a bookstore, which also sold dry goods and stationery. William, at age 45, married Abigail Angell in 1786. At that time, John Carter, publisher of the Providence Gazette, tried to effect a reconciliation between Mary Katherine and William, but without success. William formed a partnership with Edward Langworthy in 1786 and then in 1789 with his brother-in-law James Angell. In 1792, William sold his interest to Angell and retired from the printing business.

Mary Katherine Goddard had an unexpected jolt in November 1789. Samuel Osgood, postmaster general of the new U.S. government, dismissed her as postmaster of Baltimore on grounds that the office was expanded to include surrounding areas and therefore extensive horseback traveling was required—an activity, he said, that could be better performed by a man; 230 Baltimore citizens unsuccessfully petitioned Osgood to reverse the decision. Goddard wrote President Washington to intervene on her behalf, but he simply replied that the appointment belonged entirely to Osgood to make. She then appealed to the U.S. Senate, emphasizing her 14-year experience and that as postmaster she had endured "her Share of losses and misfortunes." The Senate tabled the request, without taking any further action. When her successor John White died after less than a year as postmaster of Baltimore, Mary Katherine still did not secure reappointment.

Goddard had prospered in the printing business. In a Journal notice of March 2, 1783, she had reported the theft of a small trunk belonging to her, "ornamented with Gold-leaf." Among the contents were: "Four Guineas and a Half, Four Half-Johannes (Portuguese coins), Thirty or Forty dollars, and bank notes for fifty, forty, and ten dollars." The 1790 census listed her household with four slaves and one "other free person," probably a boarder.

In 1803, she moved her bookstore from 80 Baltimore Street to a smaller place at 28 Chatham Street. She retired from business about 1809; the census for the following year listed her as "Mary K. Goddard, gentlewoman." During her last years, she made her final residence at 18 Conewago Street in the company of a slave, Belinda Starling . Mary Katherine Goddard died at her home on August 12, 1816, at age 78, and was buried in the St. Paul's Parish graveyard. In her will, which does not mention brother William, she gave 26-year-old Belinda her freedom and stipulated that she be the sole heir.

Mary Katherine Goddard had an extraordinary career. She served as printer in Providence, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and at the latter place, for a decade, oversaw the publishing of a vast amount of work besides issuing one of the most influential newspapers of the time. Her work had a reputation for fine quality, and she never missed a deadline. While in association with her brother, she tempered his excesses, and yet stood by him fully in defending the cause of freedom of the press. Wroth cites a fitting tribute from an "admirer" of Goddard: she was "a woman of extraordinary judgment, energy, nerve and strong good sense."


Hudak, Leona M. Early American Women Printers and Publishers, 1639–1820. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978.

Miner, Ward L. William Goddard, Newspaperman. Durham: Duke University Press, 1962.

Thomas, Isaiah. The History of Printing in America. NY: Weathervane Books, 1970 (originally published 1810).

Wheeler, Joseph T. The Maryland Press, 1777–1790. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1938.

Wroth, Lawrence C. A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686–1776. Baltimore, MD: The Typothetae of Baltimore, 1922.

——. The Colonial Printer. Portland, ME: The South-worth-Anthoensen Press, 1938.

suggested reading:

Bird, Caroline. Enterprising Women. NY: W.W. Norton, 1976.


The Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, has the Maryland-Journal, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania the Pennsylvania Chronicle; both newspapers are available in microfilm editions. Listings of Mary Katherine Goddard's imprints, with locations where they may be found, are published in "Bibliography of Maryland Imprints: An Annotated Bibliography of Books, Newspapers, and Broadsides Printed in Maryland from 1777 to 1790," in Wroth, Maryland Press, pp. 77–206 and "Imprints by Mary Katherine Goddard," in Hudak, Early American Women Printers and Publishers, pp. 339–392.

related media:

Mary Kate's War (motion picture, one reel, 25 min.), recreates Goddard's efforts to uphold the freedom of the press by refusing the Baltimore Whig Club's demand that she reveal the author of an unsigned article she had published in the Maryland Journal; produced by National Geographic Society, 1975; also on videocassette.

Harry Ward , Professor of History, University of Richmond, author of Colonial America (Prentice-Hall), American Revolution—Nationhood Achieved (St. Martin's), and other books on colonial and Revolutionary America

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