Women in the U.S. Postal System
Women in Postal History
Mary Katherine Goddard
Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816) was appointed Baltimore’s postmaster in 1775. She originally served under the leadership of Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin who oversaw the newly independent colonial postal system established by her younger brother, William Goddard. Goddard may have been the first woman postmaster in colonial America. Not only was she in charge of a post office serving a major commercial city, but was also an accomplished printer and publisher. Goddard successfully published her brother’s newspaper, The Maryland Journal, from 1774 to 1784. Recognizing the excellence of her paper, Congress granted Goddard the honor of publishing the first copy of the Declaration of Independence with all the signatories listed, in 1777.
Goddard was exposed to the printing business and postal system through her family. Her father Giles Goddard was a prominent figure in the community, serving the people as a physician and postmaster of New London, Connecticut. After his death, Goddard’s mother Sarah Updike moved the family to Providence, Rhode Island, where William opened his first printing business. William’s mother and sister took over for him when he began to spend his time and finances undertaking other business ventures. As Ward Miner noted in his book on Goddard, “William was the postmaster of Providence, but his mother and sister had done the actual postal work.”1 In the process of overseeing her brother’s publications and printing shops, Mary Katherine Goddard established a reputable name for herself.
As a publisher and postmaster, Goddard believed she was responsible to her public. During the Revolutionary War, for example, she continued her service, believing in the “American cause” of self-sacrifice for the “commonweal.”2 Goddard often used her own funds to pay the post-riders and to cover the costs of printing issues of The Maryland Journal.3 At the same time, Goddard’s efforts were tied into her role as a businesswoman, ensuring that her subscribers received the paper and that the customers had their mail delivered.
Goddard’s contributions to the new nation did not protect her from political manipulation. In 1789, Postmaster General Samuel Osgood ordered Goddard to resign from her post. She was replaced by John White, Osgood’s political ally. Because Baltimore was to become the new regional headquarters, Osgood asserted that the postmaster would have to make frequent, long-distance travels, which he stated would be unmanageable for a woman.4 When, in fact, the growing port city of Baltimore presented a lucrative source of income and opportunity for political favors.
Refusing to accept her dismissal, Goddard petitioned the highest authorities for reinstatement. She wrote a letter to President George Washington, expressing her loyal service to the state and claiming that her post office “remained ‘the most punctual & regular of any upon the Continent.’”5 More than 230 Baltimore citizens signed a petition in defense of Goddard’s competence and protest her unfair removal. However, their efforts were not enough. Washington refused to intervene. Goddard then appealed to the U.S. Senate, but they too failed to act.
Even before losing her post in Baltimore, Goddard had been forced to give up leadership of The Journal. Seeing the success of the paper, William, whose relationship with his sister escalated into a “bitter quarrel,” had resumed control of his publication.6 Having lost two sources of income, Goddard financially supported herself through the management of her bookshop. Before her death on August 12, 1816, Goddard freed her single slave, a woman named Belinda, bequeathing to her all possessions and property. Goddard may have been one of the new Republic’s earliest victims of what would become known in the nineteenth century as the postal service’s patronage system, but would not be the last woman to serve as postmaster.
1 Ward L. Miner, William Goddard, Newspaperman (Durham: Duke University Press, 1962), 113.
2 Christopher Young, “Mary K. Goddard: A Classical Republican in a Revolutionary Age” in Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 96, No. 1, (Spring 2001), 7.
3 Christopher Young, 15.
4 Ward L. Miner, 193-194.
5 Christopher Young, 15.
6 Ward L. Miner, 180-181.