Mary Katharine Goddard Takes a Stance

Color image of the bottom of a printed Declaration of Independence showing the name Mary Katharine Goddard.
Printer Mary Katharine Goddard's name is inked into history.  But, there is no known image of this woman who took a great risk for the cause of American independence.

NPS photo

Mary Katharine Goddard's name appears on a printed Declaration of Independence. She was not a signer or a man, but she was a printer to the Continental Congress. The Declaration of Independence that she printed in Baltimore in January 1777 was the first version of the document to list the names of most of the signers. Goddard risked her life and her livelihood by including her own name on the Declaration of Independence.

Printer and Postmaster

Born in New London, Connecticut in 1739, Goddard learned the printing business from her younger brother William. Goddard followed William from New London to Providence and on to Philadelphia. William started the Pennsylvania Chronicle newspaper in 1767, and the Goddard family used a Franklin-owned press in a Franklin-owned house during at least part of their time printing and publishing in Philadelphia.

The Goddards relocated to Baltimore, and William started that city's first newspaper in 1773, the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser. After about a year, Mary Katharine Goddard took over the printing business while her brother traveled the colonies to promote the "Constitutional Post," an alternative to the royal postal system. Named postmaster of Baltimore in July 1775, she became the first postmaster of Baltimore, the first female postmaster in the colonies, and eventually the first female postmaster in the United States. Around the same time, she stopped printing the Maryland Journal under her brother's name and began printing under "M.K. Goddard."

In December 1776, the Continental Congress relocated to Baltimore, just blocks from Goddard's printing office/bookstore/post office. As the official printer to the Continental Congress and a proud supporter of the American cause, she printed Congressional resolutions and notices as well as the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signers. Goddard's imprint at the bottom of the document identifies not only the city where she worked for so many years, but also her full name: "Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard."

Not Qualified to Be Postmaster?

Goddard's brother returned to Baltimore, resuming control of the Maryland Journal and beginning a period of rivalry between the siblings. Mary Katharine Goddard served as postmaster until 1789, but with the ratification of the new U.S. Constitution, Postmaster General Samuel Osgood removed her from the position.

Although political reasons most likely drove his actions, Osgood said that the position would require more travel than a woman could handle. Goddard appealed to President George Washington, reminding him that she had supported the Post Office during the Revolutionary War, "at her own risque, [and] advanced hard money to defray the Charges of Post Riders for many years, when they were not to be procured on any other terms..." She then refuted the assertion that she would be unequal to the job requirements, writing, "as two Persons must be employed, according to this new Plan...She is more adequate to give Instructions to the Riding Post Master, how to act than any other Person possibly could."

Washington responded, telling Goddard that he would not interfere in political appointments. With the support of over 200 prominent citizens of Baltimore, Goddard also petitioned the U.S. Senate, to no avail. She continued to own a bookselling business.

Upon Mary Katharine Goddard's death in 1816, she not only freed her enslaved servant Belinda Starling, but also left her entire estate to Starling.

Print and web resources about Mary Katharine Goddard:

Miner, Ward. William Goddard, newspaperman. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 1962.
Even though her brother is the subject of the book, this remains the best source on Mary Katharine Goddard's life.

Harvard University: Declaration Resources Project. March Highlight: Mary Katherine Goddard.
This blog post provides additional information about the Goddard broadside of the Declaration of Independence, as well as information about the portrait often erroneously identified as Mary Katharine Goddard.

National Archives, Founders Online: Letter to George Washington from Mary Katherine Goddard, 23 December 1789.
Read Goddard's appeal to George Washington.

National Archives: Petition of Mary Katherine Goddard for Reinstatement as Postmaster of Baltimore.
Read the original petition Mary Katherine Goddard sent to the U.S. Senate seeking reinstatement of her position as postmaster. Note that her name is spelled as "Mary Katherine Goddard" on this document, but it is spelled as "Mary Katharine Goddard" on the Declaration of Independence.

Independence National Historical Park

Last updated: January 26, 2022