Sunday, August 8, 2021

Mary Katherine Goddard by Patty Smith Hall

Years ago, I paid a visit to the Library of Congress to do some research on a book. I was still trying to discover my voice and the type of heroine I wanted to portray in my work. They had to be strong women, someone who could hold their own in a man's world but most of all, I wanted them to play a role in the history around them. I discussed this with one of the librarians, an older gentlemen who'd worked at the library for a number of years. He gave me a cryptic smile, then said one name.

Mary Katherine Goddard

If you've never heard of her, you're not alone. She's a forgotten figure in the early history of the United States but a pivotal one. You see, Mary Katherine Goddard's name sits along side Ben Franklin's and the rest of our founding fathers on the Declaration of Independence.

Mary Katherine was born in Connecticut on June 16, 1783, the daughter of Dr. Giles Goddard and Sarah Updike Goddard. Her father was the postmaster of New London while her younger brother, William served as an apprentice for a local printer. Her father's death when she was twenty-four pushed her and her mother into leaving their home in Connecticut and joining William at his home in Providence, Rhode Island where he owned a print shop. Mary Katherine apprenticed under him and eventually, became a printer as well as a publisher of the Providence Gazette.

Her brother traveled throughout the colonies opening print shops, then Mary Katherine would follow him, overseeing the shop while William opened another. In the winter of 1774, Mary Katherine took over Will's shop in Baltimore, Maryland. She also served as the publisher of the Maryland Journal where she reported news from the battlefield as well as from the Continental Congress.

In January, 1777, the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia and had settled in Baltimore. The Declaration of Independence had been ratified and signed but had not been made public yet. Congress decided not to delay distribution of the declaration any longer. Being the only print shop in Baltimore, Mary Katherine was given the project.

Here's where it gets good!

As she was typesetting it, Mary Katherine read it and agreed completely with the declaration. In the past, she had 'signed' her print jobs and newspapers with 'M. K. Goddard' as to not let on that she was a lady. But for this document--the Declaration of Independence--she wrote 'Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard.' Had the copied been discovered by the British, she would have hung for treason.

Wow, right?

But that's not the end of her story. From 1775 to 1789, she served as the postmaster of Baltimore, the first female government employee. She was highly respected throughout the city, so much so when she was replaced by the postmaster general in 1789, two hundred business men as well as Thomas Jefferson wrote letters asking that she be reinstated. Their request was denied.

After losing her position, Mary Katherine continued to run the print shop as well as a book store until her death in 1816 at seventy-eight years, a much-loved and highly respected member of her community.

Multi-published author Patty Smith Hall lives near the North Georgia Mountains with Danny, her husband of 38 years. When she's not writing, she's spending time with her two grandboys out in the yard or reading on her back porch




  1. welcome today. this is interesting. thanks for sharing.

  2. Loved this, Patty. How fun to explore her story more.

  3. Thanks for the very interesting post! Sounds like she came from a very industrious family!