Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Mother and Daughter Colonial Printers

by | March 19, 2012 | 12 comments

By Anna Kathryn Lanier

I found a wonderful new reference book, 4,000 YEARS OF UPPITY WOMEN.  How can you NOT get a book about rebellious belles, daring dames, and headstrong heroines through the ages? For Women’s History Month, there are dozens of women to choose from, so I actually choose two, a mother and daughter – who printed the Declaration of Independence.

Mary Katherine Goddard

Sarah Updike Goddard was a well­-educated, well-off widow when she invested her money with her son to start a printing business in Providence, RhodeIsland. Mary Katherine Goddard (born in 1738) came to work in her brother’s printing shop as well, and the threesome printed a weekly newspaper, the Providence Gazette.  In 1765, William sold out and moved to Pennsylvania.  Sarah and Mary Katherine continued in the Providence shop, cranking out the newspaper and books, which Sarah would bind herself until 1768, when the paper was sold at a profit.  During this time, the ladies printed the first U.S. edition of The Letters of Lady Mary Montagu.  Lady Montagu is a subject unto herself, as she is responsible for bringing the smallpox inoculation to both Europe and the American colonies (how many of you thought a MAN was responsible for this?  Yeah, that’s because the creator of the vaccine was a man, and that’s who we learned about…not the WOMAN who made the vaccine possible!  Ah, but I do digress, don’t I?)

Back to Mary Katherine…after selling the shop in Providence and with Sarah dead (at the age of 70), Mary Katherine moved to Philadelphia. Now a very talented printer, editor and type compositor, she took over the running of the Philadelphia business, one of the largest print shops in New England.  In 1773, Billy opened another print shop, this time in Baltimore.  In 1774, the Philadelphia shop was sold and Mary Katherine moved to Baltimore, editing the Baltimore Journal. During the Revolution, when paper was scarce, the Journal remained in print, often the only paper around.

The May 10, 1775 issue finally made official what had been true for the past year.  The colophon read, “Published by M.K. Goddard.”

In 1777, a publisher was needed to print copies of the Declaration of Independence.  To be caught with one would be consider treason…what would it be if you were printing it?  But Mary Katherine volunteered for the job and her press was the first one to print true copies of the Declaration, with the names of the signers.  Copies of her Declaration were sent out to all thirteen colonies.

In addition to printing a newspaper, Mary Katherine also printed almanacs (a few original copies are in the procession of the Maryland Historical Society). She also ran a bookshop.

As if all this wasn’t enough to do, in 1775, Mary Katherine was appointed the post master of Baltimore, most likely the only woman to hold such a post in that day, and certainly the only woman to hold such an important post after the Declaration of Independence.  She was post master of Baltimore for fourteen years, until 1789, when she was unceremoniously removed from the job. The post became a federal position and was expanded to include Superintendent of the southern department, which included travelling.  The Postal Service concluded that a woman could not possibly do all that travelling, so they fired her. The esteem she was held in at the time shone through when over 200 businessmen signed a petition on her behalf asking that she be given back her job. It didn’t help. Neither appeals to Congress or President Washington.

Meanwhile, business relations with her brother had deteriorated over the years, until finally she sold out her portion of the business and ran her bookstore instead. Mary Katherine, unwillingly retired as postmaster, ran her bookstore for several more years before retiring from it.  She died in 1816 at the hearty age of 78 and was buried at St. Paul’s Parish.


For more reading on Mary Katherine:

Anna Kathryn Lanier
“Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.”~Doug Ivester


  1. Lauri Robinson

    Wow. What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Angelyn

    Oh–I’ve heard about that book. If it’s anything like your great post, I’d say it’s something to invest in. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Marie Higgins

    I found this very interesting! I’ve written two stories in the Colonial era and still have one more to write. 🙂 What a wonderful story!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Susan Macatee

    What a great story, Anna! It’s amazing what some women accomplished years before they won their rights!

  5. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    Hi, ya’ll. Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, Angelyn, it’s a great book. So is “Ladies First,” by Lynn St. Lucia. Another book about strong women in history,

  6. Maryann Miller

    Enjoyed reading about this amazing woman. I love the tidbits of historical facts you share here, Anna. I also love the name of that reference book you found “uppity” women.

  7. Nancy Jardine

    I love reading about women who achieved so much way back then, and especially like to hear that they were recognised for having done something momentous. I’m sure many women worked ‘behind the scenes’ but never got any acknowledgement.

  8. Caroline Clemmons

    Anna Kathryn, what a great post for Women’s History Month. I agree that I could not resist picking up a book with that title. Thanks for sharing the story of these amazing women.

  9. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    HI, Nancy, Maryann and Caroline. I know, don’t you just love the title? If I make it back to Barnes and Noble, I’ll look for it and pick up a copy for HHRW’s Brenda Novak basket!

  10. Ally Broadfield

    What a fabulous story. And I definitely need to pick up a copy of that book (you’re right, the title alone sells it!).

  11. Naomi Baltuck

    What a great story. It’s a shame that after serving her country so bravely and well she should be unceremoniously dumped.

    The Uppity Women series was written by Vicki Leon, who has a wicked sense of humor. She wrote Uppity women of the Renaissance, UW of the New World, UW of Ancient Times, UW of the Middle Ages. A great series!

    And thanks for a great post.



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