Did you know that a woman's name appears on some copies of the Declaration of Independence? Mary Katharine Goddard was a Baltimore printer hired to publish a broadside of the Declaration including for the first time the names of all the signers. Below them, in tiny print, one can also find the text, 'Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.' Who was this woman whose name appears alongside America's famous Founding Fathers?
Born in 1738, Mary was middle-aged but unmarried at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. She had been well educated, especially for a woman of the 18th century, and her father, Giles Goddard, served as postmaster before his death in 1755. Mary and her mother, Sarah, served as the steady business minds behind the business fronts of Mary's younger brother, William, and he eventually left Mary completely in charge of the Maryland Journal.
Independently operating the newspaper, Mary published updates on the British blockade of Boston, encouraged Marylanders in the boycott of British goods, and printed copies of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Mary also printed articles regarding concerns of those who remained loyal to Great Britain. Some attacked her for this, but Mary was firm in her stance for freedom of speech and the need for civil discourse. She also served as Baltimore's postmaster, possibly making her the first female US employee. When Congress needed a patriotic printer, they needed to look no further.
The Declaration was printed by Mary in January 1777. Adding her own name boldly to the broadside put Mary in the same danger as the men who had signed. (Her standard imprint was MK Goddard, rather than her full name.) Each was declaring themselves traitors to the British crown - or American patriots - depending upon your point-of-view. There could be no turning back once the list was distributed in bold, black ink.
In 1784, William Goddard returned to take back the Maryland Journal that his sister had run so effectively throughout the Revolutionary War in his absence. Not one to fade away quietly, Mary printed publications to compete with him and continued in business on her own. The siblings became estranged and possibly never spoke again.
Another blow struck when Mary was removed from her position as postmaster, supposedly because the job was too arduous for a fifty-year-old woman. She petitioned the Senate and President Washington for the post to be returned to her in 1790. Many citizens of Baltimore wrote in support of her as well, but she received no response from the Senate while Washington responded that he would not intervene in the decision.
Knocked down but not defeated, Mary continued successfully selling books and dry goods at a Baltimore shop for two more decades, well into what was considered old age for that era.
Mary Katharine Goddard died at age 78 in 1816, having witnessed the birth of the United States and the War of 1812. In her will, Mary manumitted her enslaved servant, Belinda Starling, and 'also give and bequeath unto said Belinda Starling all the property of which I may did posessed; all which I do to recompense the faithful performance of duties to me.' Despite her accomplishments as printer and one of America's first female employees, Mary Katharine Goddard's name has been largely forgotten.
Learn more about the lives of Women of the American Revolution - available at Pen & Sword, Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite book retailer. Also available now at Audible and audiobooks.com!