Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816) is a
symbolic figure in American history for being the first to print the
Declaration of Independence, with the names of the signatories. She was a
publisher, as well as the postmaster for the Baltimore Post Office.
She was in charge of
a printing press and a bookstore in her hometown of Baltimore, and ran the Maryland Journal. She offered her
services in order to distribute the Declaration of Independence widely among
the American people, despite risking being accused of treason by the British.
Her copy was the second ever made, and the first to include the names of the
Though the resolution of revolution was read throughout the land, the final signed version was not published until January 1777. By that time members of Congress, each with a price on his head for disloyalty to the Crown, were hiding out from the British in Baltimore. There the signers of the Declaration turned to a woman for the perilous job of printing the document, with their names attached, for the first time. The publisher of the “Maryland Journal”, Mary Katherine Goddard, bravely printed her own name at the bottom of the Declaration, becoming herself a signed of sorts, firmly associating herself with the dangerous cause of the new nation.
Mary Katherine began her printing career in 1762 while working as an assistant to her brother. With each passing year, Mary Katherine took on more and more responsibility as her brother became increasingly involved in revolutionary politics. Finally in 1775, she removed her brother’s name from the masthead of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser and listed herself (M.K. Goddard) as publisher. For the next fourteen years, Mary Katherine published her newspaper without missing an issue, a noteworthy accomplishment in such a tumultuous time. In 1775, Mary Katherine also became Baltimore’s postmaster, the first female postmaster in colonial America.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. As the Declaration was a treasonous document, it circulated without signatures for the next six months. In January 1777, Mary Katherine accepted a commission from the Continental Congress to published the Declaration with signatures. This document is known as the Goddard broadside.
Although Mary Katherine was important figure in revolutionary Baltimore, her fortunes fell after the war ended. Her brother seized control of the paper in 1784 and although Mary Katherine filed lawsuits against him, she was unable to regain ownership. In 1789, Postmaster General Samuel Osgood removed Mary Katherine from her position as Baltimore’s postmaster on the basis of her gender. Although over 200 Baltimore businessmen publicly supported her reinstatement, Congress declined to intervene on her behalf. Mary Katherine spent the remainder of her life running a bookstore.