Grateful American® Foundation

Who was America’s first female postmaster?

June 16th

440px-Mary_Katherine_GoddardJune 16, 1738 — Born today was Mary Katherine Goddard (June 16, 1738 – August 12, 1816), an early American publisher and the first female postmaster in America. She was also the first to print the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signatories.

The native of Connecticut was the daughter of Dr. Giles Goddard, the postmaster of New London. Her mother, Sarah Updike Goddard, set up a printing press and published city’s first newspaper, the Providence Gazette.

After the death of her father in 1762, Mary and her mother joined her brother, William Goddard (1740-1817), in Providence, R.I. where he had established a printing shop. Both mother and daughter began their careers as printers.

When William left Rhode Island to start a newspaper in Philadelphia, Mary took control of the journal in 1774, and continued to publish it throughout the American Revolutionary War until 1784. However, her brother forced her to give up the newspaper amid an acrimonious quarrel.

In 1775, Mary went into the other “family business,” and became the first female postmaster, overseeing the Baltimore post office. She also ran a book store and published an almanac in offices located around 250 Market Street (now East Baltimore Street, near South Street).

On January 18, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress moved that the Declaration of Independence be widely distributed, Mary offered the use of her press — despite of the risks of being associated with what was considered a treasonable document by the British. Her copy, the Goddard Broadside, was the second printed, and the first to contain the typeset names of the signatories, including John Hancock.

According to the National Postal Museumgoddard, “Mary’s life changed yet again in 1789 when Postmaster General Samuel Osgood removed her from the position stating that it would require “more traveling . . . than a woman could undertake.” Osgood appointed his political ally, John White, a man inexperienced in postal operations, to replace her.

“Goddard’s customers protested her dismissal. She had, by all accounts, been an accomplished postmaster. On November 12, 1789, over 230 citizens of the city of Baltimore presented Postmaster General Osgood with a petition demanding her reinstatement. In their plea, the petitioners noted that Mary gave ‘universal Satisfaction to the community’ and they were ‘praying in the most earnest manner that she be restored.’ But the citizens’ petition was unsuccessful. Having already lost her printing business to her brother, Mary turned to selling books, stationery and dry goods.”

She died in Baltimore on August 12, 1816, “still beloved by the community she served so well.”

Words of Wisdom

If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

— Abigail Adams (November 22, 1744 - October 28, 1818)

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