Since today is election day, I thought it was only fit to reflect on our founding fathers and the incredible design they imagined for our democracy. It all started with our Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, signed by 34 (of 56) delegates of these United States on parchment paper. It was a momentous occasion fraught with many mistakes and mishaps, misunderstandings and challenges, which were finally resolved in 1777 when Congress commissioned the Baltimore Postmaster Mary Katharine Goddard, the “35th signatory” of the Declaration of Independence, to publish an official printed document.
If you look at the very bottom, you will see Mary Katharine Goddard’s name associated with publishing the document. She was a visionary and original American idealist.
It was in this Harvard.edu article that I first discovered this gem of history- the courage of a young woman in a time of civil unrest. Obviously, Mary saw the value of being connected with such historical proclamations, but she was also being very business savvy.
You see, the Declaration of Independence had been published by two other companies before Ms. Goddard’s, completely botched and mistake ridden. Ms. Goddard and her publishing company seized a unique opportunity to properly and professionally publish a historically significant document, and Ms. M.K. Goddard knew its value. She risked her life and her publishing company for the faith of a free nation. Her courage is as remarkable as the other 34 signatories on the document. But who was Mary Katharine Goddard?
Ms. Goddard was the first postmaster of Baltimore, the first female postmaster in the colonies, and shortly thereafter the first female postmaster in the United States of America. She wrote many articles and pieces on the importance of freedom and independence. Her newspaper reflected early Americans’ desire for freedom. Some of her most important reports covered the momentous events in Massachusetts of April 19, 1775–the opening salvoes with the Battles of Concord and Lexington. And an editorial of June 14, 1775 proclaimed, “The ever memorable 19th of April gave a conclusive answer
to the questions of American freedom. What think ye of Congress now? That
day. . . evidenced that Americans would rather die than live slaves!”
The Declaration of Independence might have been her most historically published piece. Despite her courage and tenacity, Ms. M.K. Goddard was eventually victim to a common misunderstanding of female resolve and she was disbarred from publishing due to the “strain of travel on a woman“. Testament to her professionalism and reputation, over 200 businessmen petitioned to keep her on, but were unsuccessful.
She lived the rest of her life quietly out of public eye, continuing small movements to raise awareness to social injustice until her death in 1816. She is an inspiration and reminder this election day of courage and resolve in a time of unrest and uncertainty. thank you Mary Katharine Goddard for your vision and mark in history.