Archive: July2017

Mary Katherine Goddard – The Power of the Press

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Mary Katherine Goddard

June 16, 1738 (Connecticut) – August 12, 1816 (Baltimore)

In the lead up to the American Revolutionary War, Mary Katherine Goddard and her brother William moved to Philadelphia to help fuel it along using the “power of the press.” The two, along with their mother, had run a press in Rhode Island, where they published the Providence Gazette. As tensions mounted between the colonists and the Crown, Mary and William brought their press to Philadephia. There, they created the Pennsylvania Chronicle, who counted among its partners, Benjamin Franklin. It was a platform the Goddard’s used to show their fierce support for American independence from England, lambast the laws and levies placed on the colonists by British Parliment, and challenge the power of the Penn Family.

Though the brother and sister founded the paper together, by 1768, William set off to Boston where he started the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, leaving Mary Katherine to run the Philadelphia paper alone. Within two years, hers was the most read colonial newspaper. During the years of the war, she regularly published news of the battles from Concord to Bunker Hill. She was so vehemently pro-colonist that she had a printing press made for her from a local watchmaker, Issac Doolittle, since all the presses came from England. Her’s was the first “American-made” press in the colonies.
Her open support of the colonists, however, was considered an act of treason that caused her offices to be raided a number of times and her life threatened more than once. When, in 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, it initially had been taken to a printer who distributed it with severe mistakes. It was this copy that was then sent to the colonies as well as to the King – a blatant act of treason in the Crown’s eye. At its second, and official printing, however, Mary Katherine was given the opportunity. Her’s was not only free of mistakes but bore the signatures of “the founding fathers,” as well as her own. It was a very daring and dangerous move.
She later moved to Boston to help William, yet again while he was jailed for unpaid debts. She ran the Maryland Journal for years with success to the point that she is listed as the paper’s editor. At the same time, she not only ran the paper and press but became the Baltimore Post Master. She is the first woman to hold that position.

When her brother resurfaced, this time with a wife, he took his paper back over without his sister, or seemingly, gratitude. Mary Katherine held her position as postmaster for thirteen years before a new Post Master General took office and replaced her with one of his friends. Baltimoreans were so upset that they petitioned for her to remain, without success. For her remaining years, Mary Katherine Goddard ran a small bookstore in Baltimore, a city that would stay her home until her death in 1816. For all her courage, however, her legacy might have faded away were it not for that daring choice to print her name on the bottom of our nation’s most important document.

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