Guest Posts

Do You Know Mary Katherine Goddard?

DSCF3136Pamela’s Note: Natalie and I are so lucky to have a delightful student this year, who we tutor in math (Natalie) and humanities (Pamela). Malena is being home schooled during eighth grade, so that she can delve into the pleasure of learning this year (without the stress of peer pressure). We eagerly look forward to our time with Malena each week. Last Friday, Natalie, Malena and I sat around the kitchen table and took turns reading aloud from Joy Hakim’s marvelous history book series: A History of US: From Colonies to Country, 1735-1791 Natalie read the last chapter and we all applauded after she reached the end. I said, “Let’s figure out which volume we’ll read next” and Malena said, “I want to ask my mom if we can order the whole series.” (There are 10 fabulous volumes. Natalie and I felt the same as Malena does. After reading one volume four years ago during our own eighth grade year, we ended up purchasing the entire series.)

Why is it so marvelous? Joy Hakim has remembered the “story” in “history,” making you want to learn more.

“The liveliest, most realistic,  most well-received American history series ever written for children.” —Los Angeles Times

“The best American history written for young people I have ever seen.” — David Herbert Donald, Harvard University and Pulitzer Prize winner

And so this guest post by Malena is about an amazing woman we read about in Volume 3: Mary Katherine Goddard: An Early American Printer


Mary Katherine Goddard was famous for publishing the first copy of the Declaration of Independence with the signers’ names. She was a printer, journalist, newspaper publisher, and postmaster who lived in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mary_Katherine_Goddard1-150x150Mary Katherine was born in 1738, New England, though her exact birthplace is unknown. She and her younger brother William were homeschooled by their mother and studied Latin, French, and the literary classics. In 1757, when the family was living in New London, Connecticut, Giles Goddard (Mary Katherine’s father) died, leaving his family a fairly valuable estate. When William came of age they moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Sarah Goddard loaned her son, William, the money to start a printing business, which was the first in the colony.

In 1762, Mary Katherine was 24. William traveled a lot so Sarah Goddard was the true publisher of the Providence Gazette and Country Journal. Mary Katherine did not participate in the many activities ladies her age liked to do, instead she worked as a typesetter, printer, and journalist. In 1765, William moved to Philadelphia to start another print shop. Three years later, his mother and sister joined him and helped with the Philadelphia Chronicle and Universal Advertiser.

Sadly, in 1770, Sarah Goddard died. Mary kept the business running while William was frequently jailed for public outbursts and rabblerousing articles in the paper. In May of 1773, William departed and started a paper in Baltimore while Mary ran the Philadelphia paper. Unfortunately, the following February the Philadelphia paper was discontinued. Mary Katherine moved to Baltimore and again took over her brother’s newspaper. At the time, William tried to set up an inter-colonial postal system against the official British one.

In 1775, Mary Katherine Goddard became the first female postmaster in Colonial America! Since she was Postmistress and newspaper publisher, she was the center of information. This enabled her to publish news faster than her competitors. Newspapers were the best source of communication and information during the war. Mary Katherine never missed an issue of the paper between 1775-1785, while many other papers missed issues during the war.



Independence was declared on July 4, 1776. John Hancock bravely led other members of the Continental Congress in signing the Declaration of Independence. If they had been caught and America lost the war, they would have been executed! That was why printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were published without the signers’ names, but in January of 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard was the first to publish it with the signers’ names. She also would have been executed if the war was lost.


Here is a photograph of the Declaration of Independence printed by Mary Katherine Goddard. See if you can guess why a signature is often called a "John Hancock." John Hancock did not only sign first, but was big and bold about signing -- as if he wanted everyone to remember he was signing without fear.
Here is a photograph of the Declaration of Independence printed by Mary Katherine Goddard. See if you can guess why a signature is often called a “John Hancock.” John Hancock did not only sign first, but his signature is big and bold. Do you suppose he wanted everyone to know and remember that he signed in spite of fear?

Unfortunately, William Goddard was never able to become successful at any occupation and he was jealous of his sister’s success. In 1784, Mary Katherine’s name disappeared from the paper. Historians agree that William forced his sister to quit. There is even a record of her filing five lawsuits against him.

In 1789, the year the U.S Constitution was adopted, Mary Katherine was forced out of her position as postmistress in favor of a male replacement. Isn’t that ironic? Mary Katherine appealed to George Washington and the Congress about her situation, and over 200 men signed her petition, but she was not reappointed.

Mary Katherine ran a bookstore until her death in 1816. In her will, she freed her slave Belinda Starling and left her property to her. Mary Katherine Goddard was both brave and generous.


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