The newspaper business has welcomed women for many years; women have had much success as both publishers and editors (leadership positions) since the time of the American Revolution. For example, a woman was the first to publish the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signers. A woman was responsible for publishing the Pentagon Papers and breaking the Watergate story. These women newspaper publishers and editors had to overcome many obstacles in order to pursue their calling. Let’s discover some of them.
Born in 1738, Mary Katherine Goddard learned the printing business from her brother in Providence, Rhode Island, after the death of her physician father. With her mother, she published the Providence Gazette. Later, in 1768, she moved to her brother’s printing office in Philadelphia where she assisted in the publication of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. When the Philadelphia shop closed, Goddard moved to Baltimore, Maryland where her brother had begun publishing Baltimore’s first newspaper, the Maryland Journal. In 1775, the Maryland Journal masthead was changed to read “Published by M. K. Goddard.”
Goddard is also remembered as the first printer to publish a copy of the Declaration of Independence that included the names of the signers. Later Goddard became the postmaster of Baltimore, the first woman so appointed in the colonies and the first woman to be appointed to such a position after the Declaration of Independence. She held the position until 1789 when she was replaced against her will, by a man who could do the traveling that a woman of that time could not do. More than 200 of the leading businessmen in Baltimore petitioned to allow her to continue in the work, but they were not successful. Goddard stayed in Baltimore and operated a book shop.
The first black newspaperwoman in North America, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born in Delaware and lived there with her family until it became illegal in the state to educate African Mary Ann Shadd. Her family relocated to Pennsylvania and she was able to continue her education. Cary taught school in Pennsylvania and New York until the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. Then her family moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada near Detroit. There she established a school and served as editor of the anti-slavery newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. She advocated full equality through education and self reliance. After the Civil War, she married and lived in Washington, DC where she attended the Howard University Law School. At the age of 60, she became the second black woman to graduate with a law degree in the U.S. She also wrote for newspapers in the DC area. Cary has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Anne Elizabeth McDowell published a weekly Philadelphia newspaper, the Women’s Advocate, starting in 1855. The newspaper was wholly operated by women – where women did every job from typesetting to printing and were paid the same wages as men. This was completely unprecedented for the time. After it went out of business, McDowell became the editor of the women’s department at the Sunday Dispatch; this was also completely unusual for a woman of the time. After eleven years, she became the editor of Philadelphia’s Sunday Republic. Later in her life, she established the McDowell Free Library for the women who worked at Wanamaker’s (a department store in the city).
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for the President of the United States. With her sister, she was the first woman to establish a Wall Street brokerage firm and among the first women to found a newspaper in the U.S. Woodhull, Claflin & Company opened on Wall Street in 1870. Also, in 1870, the sisters founded Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly which was published for six years. It was set up primarily to support Woodhull’s presidential candidacy. With a circulation of about 20,000, the newspaper promoted many controversial topics of the time including women’s suffrage and skirts shorter than floor length. Woodhull has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Katharine Graham, characterized herself as a “doormat wife.” After her husband committed suicide, she became the publisher of The Washington Post, the paper her father had restored to prominence and her husband had run after her father’s retirement. Said Graham about her husband taking the helm of the newspaper, “Far from troubling me that my father thought of my husband and not me, it pleased me. In fact, it never crossed my mind that he might have viewed me as someone to take on an important job at the paper.” Surprising her male colleagues as well as herself, Graham ran the paper with much success for two decades. She was the first female Fortune 500 CEO. Graham is known for leading the coverage of Watergate which resulted in President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Her memoirs, published in 1997, received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. Graham has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and her story was the subject of the 2017 movie The Post, where Graham was portrayed by Meryl Streep. Graham posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Alicia Shepard, former NPR Ombudsman and author said of Katharine Graham, “She was always recognized as an icon and a pioneer to women and journalists of my generation.”
Women participate and contribute to every area of our lives. These women newspaper publishers and editors, as well as many others, almost all of whom we have not heard about nor learned about in school, across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories. Write women back into history!
Jill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer. After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide. She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman). She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners. The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.
Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.