American Business Woman’s Day

Mary Katherine Goddard – an 18th Century American Businesswoman

Born in Connecticut in 1738, she was a printer, publisher and postmaster, and she was the first to print a published version of the Declaration of Independence.

Mary Katherine Goddard started out helping in her brother’s print shop in Providence with her mother, Sarah Updike as her brother concentrated on other business ventures, until he left entirely, moving to Philadelphia and leaving Mary and her mother in Providence to run the shop there.

Three years after taking over in Providence, she sold the shop and joined her brother in Philly until 1773 when he moved again, this time to Baltimore to start that city’s first newspaper.

Goddard stayed and ran the Philadelphia Chronicle with her mother while training under Benjamin Franklin, who managed the new independent colonial postal system, and in 1775 she became the first known female postmaster in America.

Benjamin Franklin printing press – Benjamin Franklin Historical Society.

The following year she sold the Chronicle and joined her brother in Baltimore, again taking over his business, printing both the Maryland Journal, from 1774 to 1784, and the Baltimore Advertiser.

During the American Revolution she paid from her own pocket for riders to deliver the mail when the local government had not the funds to pay for the post, and she also self-funded the newspaper printing even when the business didn’t support itself in order for the residents of Baltimore to be kept informed.

In recognition of the quality of her newspaper, Congress named her publisher of the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the signers’ names, which was printed in January 1777. This was a risky thing, as her name also appeared on the document as the printer. She could have been in danger had the American Revolution not ended in the colonist’s favor.

An argument with her brother in 1784 resulted in her brother removing her from the Maryland Journal, however, she printed an Almanac that year in her own name, and she continued as postmaster until October 1789 when Postmaster General Samuel Osgood ordered her to quit. She was replaced by a male political ally of his as Osgood asserted that, as Baltimore was to be the new postal hub, the postmaster would have to travel to supervise the postal operations which would be difficult for an unaccompanied woman to do.

In protest, Goddard wrote to President Washington, describing her dedication to her duties and how her office had remained “the most punctual and regular of any upon the Continent.”

Her termination was protested throughout Baltimore where over 200 citizens signed a petition expressing their confidence in her competence and in protest of her removal, but Washington refused to lend aid and when she applied to Congress they too refused to help.

Subsequently, Goddard supported herself by operating a bookshop. Before her death on August 12, 1816 she freed her only slave, Belinda Starling and named Starling as her only heir. Goddard is buried at Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore.

Link: Mary Katherine Goddard’s letter to President George Washington, 23 December 1789


American Business Woman’s Association
Please visit the Benjamin Franklin Historical Society
National Park Service “Mary Katherine Goddard Takes a Stance”
Smithsonian National Postal Museum “Women in the US Postal System”


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