Saturday, January 15, 2011
Part Two: 18th Century Business Women in Publishing: Limited Only By 20th Century Interpretation
We like to recognize "firsts", but so often that's the least interesting part of the story. Mary Katherine Goddard's career is most fascinating to me because it was neither unusual nor controversial in its time. In fact she reflects the ordinariness of a successful business woman in the 18th century, when women published 16 newspapers in the colonies - nearly a quarter of the 78 papers put out each week.
And that is only the women who owned the presses: how many more were employed in all these various shops, as unheralded as the also forgotten men who worked beside them?
Printing was actually a rather common occupation for a woman in the 17th and 18th (and 19th) Centuries. So common that it was little remarked. In 1638, Elizabeth Glover (who later married Harvard's first president) founded the first press in Massachusetts. Her Cambridge Press published the famous "Bay Psalm Book", the first book printed in the colonies.
A publishing dynasty began in 1738 when Elizabeth Timothy took over publication of the South Carolina Gazette as Benjamin Franklin's partner, then left the press to her son who operated it until his death, when he was succeeded by his wife Ann. Cornelia Bradford succeeded her husband as publisher of Philadelphia's American Weekly Mercury in 1742.
Anne Catherine Hoff Green continued the family publishing business in Anapolis after she was widowed in 1767, and became the official printer for the Maryland General Assembly in her own name. Her business was later renamed "Anne Catherine Green & Son, Printers", but she retained control of the reins and they worked for her. Two of her sons and her granson followed her in earning their livelihood as printers.
Following her husband's death in 1773, Clementina Rind ran the Williamsburg Virginia Gazette and was named official printer of Virginia.
Again and again we hear feminists say these women "don't count" because they were only in business by default through their husbands or fathers. They are excluded from lists of Firsts and from lists of accomplished women.
These stories do not show what they are assumed to by people who fail to understand the substance of legal marriage in a predominently Christian or Jewish society as a full joining of male and female into a single social and economic entity as well as a spiritual and physical one. In older days, widows were frequently elected to political positions, including Governor, in
their own right, by a citizenry that fundamentally credited women as full partners in all the achievements of the marriage, recognizing either party's success as stemming from a united purpose.
Is that an old fashioned way of looking at things?
Strangely, even this common occurance in our earlier history of electing women as Governors is poo-poo'ed. Texas tied with Wyoming, both electing women as governors on 1924 - the same year than New Mexico's Hispanic Woman Secretary of State served as interim governor of New Mexico.
These stories are ignored, discounted, and actively hidden by agenda-driven feminists and progressive writers & academics, playing with semantics. One wonders why they refuse to admit to those early accomplishments, and even more why they dually ignore similar husband/wife mutual interests today.
Why? It does not lessen any person's own accomplishment to admit that others have also achieved a position. It does not make the one greater to ignore history and accuracy in reporting.
Did anyone blink when Kimora Lee Simmons took over as CEO of Phat after her ex-husband & company founder Russell Simmons stepped aside? Do people say her achievements "don't count" because her husband started the business or because they ran it as partners? No? Of course not - it would be outrageous to apply that logic. It is just as outrageous to discount the talent and earned prominence of other wives in earlier eras.
Consider how the legacy of Mrs. Coretta Scott King was her own yet inextricably joined with that of her husband, Dr Martin Luther King.
Or the appointment of Missouri First Lady Jean Caranhan, widow of Governor Mel Carnahan, to the US Senate in 2001 in the place of her husband who had passed away during the campaign for Senator and been elected postumously. Had Hilary Clinton been more focused on winning the nomination and less intent on proving she was not running as Bill's wife, she'd be our President today.
Margaret Chase Smith still holds the record as the longest serving, most successful female US senator - and she was originally elected as the widow of the Congressman upon his death.
Does anyone discount the achievements (or controversies) of Indira Gandhi because she succeeded her father Jarawalal Nehru as Prime Minister of India? Or claim that Benazir Bhutto was twice elected Prime Minister of Pakistan only because her father had held the office before her?
Just so, these women in Colonial times were not mere tokens thrown by chance tragedy into business, struggling ineffectually against an adversarial society. Far from it. The original sources show they were accepted without question and with full confidence in their capacity to run a profitable business and meet the exacting needs of their clients.
Photo: From an 1865 issue of Harper's Weekly "The Magazine of Civilization", image of workers (both women and men) in a large commercial printing operation.
Other articles in the theme:
Read Part 1 - 18th Century Equal Opportunity & Success: Some Women Printers in Colonial America
Read - Working Women in Earlier America: Not so Uncommon After All