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Navigating Innovation: 7 Women in US History Who Pioneered the Printing Industry

printing industry

From the printing of the first copy of the Declaration of Independence to the creation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, the importance of women in the U.S. printing industry cannot be overstated. 

From the earliest days of American history, women have been integral to the development and dissemination of printed materials, breaking barriers and shaping public discourse. Their contributions have ranged from running influential publications to advocating for social change, often in the face of significant obstacles.

At Full Sail Media, a media and print company that’s majority-owned by Eleonore Anderson, we recognize the vital role these women played in the evolution of printing and publishing. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we are honored to highlight seven pioneers who not only excelled in their craft but also paved the way for future generations. 

Their stories of resilience, innovation, and leadership inspire us and underscore the importance of diversity and inclusion in every industry, including our own.

Elizabeth Glover (1602-1634)

Brought the first printing press to the American colonies.

Elizabeth Glover was a pivotal figure in the history of American printing and publishing. Born in England, she immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. After the death of her husband, Jose Glover, who had purchased a printing press in England with the intention of establishing the first printing operation in the American colonies, Elizabeth carried out his vision. 

She successfully brought the printing press to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1638, laying the foundation for the establishment of the first printing press in North America. This press was instrumental in printing the first books in the colonies, including the renowned “Bay Psalm Book,” the first book printed in British America. 

Elizabeth Glover’s contribution to the colonial printing industry was not only pioneering but also crucial for the spread of knowledge and literacy in the early American colonies. Her legacy is a testament to the significant role women played in the dissemination of printed material and the development of early American culture and education.

Ann Franklin (1696–1763)

The first female newspaper editor in the United States.

Ann Franklin was a trailblazing figure in the history of American journalism, becoming the first female newspaper editor in the United States. Born in 1696, she was the widow of James Franklin, brother of Benjamin Franklin, and took over the operation of the Rhode Island Gazette after her husband’s death in 1735. Under her leadership, the newspaper became a vital source of information for its readers, covering local and international news, opinions, and advertisements. 

Ann’s role as editor and printer broke gender barriers in the colonial printing industry, setting a precedent for women’s involvement in publishing and journalism. In addition to her work with the Gazette, she also ran a printing shop that produced books, pamphlets, and other materials, further contributing to the spread of knowledge and literacy in colonial America. 

Her legacy is commemorated by her induction into the Rhode Island Journalism Hall of Fame, recognizing her significant contributions to the field and her pioneering role as a woman in the early American press.

Elizabeth Timothy (1702–1757)

The first female newspaper publisher in the colonies.

Elizabeth Timothy was a pioneering figure in American journalism, notably recognized as the first female newspaper publisher in the colonies. After the death of her husband, Lewis Timothy, in 1738, she took over the management of the South Carolina Gazette in Charleston, under an agreement with Benjamin Franklin, who was a silent partner in the business. 

Elizabeth’s astute business acumen and editorial insight led to the Gazette’s success, making it a vital source of news and information. Her tenure not only broke gender barriers in the colonial printing and publishing industry but also set a precedent for future generations of women in media. Elizabeth Timothy’s legacy is marked by her induction into the South Carolina Press Association Hall of Fame, highlighting her significant contributions to the field of journalism.

Mary Katherine Goddard (1738–1816)

Printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence with the signatories’ names.

A local Baltimore legend, Mary Katherine Goddard was a pioneering figure in American history, best known for printing the first copy of the Declaration of Independence that included the names of the signatories. 

Born in 1738, she was a prominent printer and publisher in Baltimore, where she ran her family’s printing business. In 1777, Goddard’s printing of the Declaration greatly contributed to the spread of the revolutionary message across the colonies. Aside from her notable contribution to American independence, she also served as the postmaster of Baltimore, becoming the first woman to hold a federal position in the United States. 

Goddard’s legacy is a testament to her significant role in American history, both as a supporter of independence and as a trailblazer for women in the printing and publishing industries.

Lydia Bailey (1779–1869)

A prominent printer and publisher in Philadelphia.

Lydia Bailey, born in 1779, emerged as a prominent figure in the early 19th-century American printing and publishing industry, establishing herself as a leading printer and publisher in Philadelphia following the death of her husband, Francis Bailey, in 1815. 

Despite the challenges faced by women in her era, Lydia successfully managed a significant printing business, producing a wide range of materials including books, pamphlets, legal documents, and political materials. Her enterprise notably supported various government and private sector printing needs, showcasing her skill and reliability in a male-dominated field. 

Over her career, Lydia Bailey contributed substantially to Philadelphia’s cultural and intellectual life, leaving a lasting legacy in the American printing industry. Her resilience and success paved the way for future generations of women in the business.

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879)

Editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, promoting female authors and issues.

Sarah Josepha Hale, born in 1788, was a pioneering American editor and author, best known for her influential role as the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the leading women’s magazine of the 19th century. During her tenure from 1837 to 1877, Hale transformed the publication into a powerful platform for promoting women’s education, employment, and rights, significantly shaping public opinion on women’s issues. 

She advocated for the inclusion of female authors and emphasized topics such as literature, fashion, and domestic life, making the magazine a vital resource for American women. Hale’s most enduring legacy includes her campaign for the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. 

Her work at Godey’s Lady’s Book not only elevated the status of women in society but also contributed to the cultural and social development of the United States.

Mary Ann Shadd (1823–1893)

The first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, born in 1823, was a pioneering African American educator, activist, and journalist, making history as the first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada. 

In 1853, she founded and edited The Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper in Canada West (now Ontario), which served as a platform to advocate for abolition, temperance, and women’s rights, especially focusing on the challenges and opportunities for black people in Canada and the United States. 

Shadd Cary’s work as a publisher and editor was groundbreaking, not just for her role in the press but also for her activism in the antislavery movement. Her legacy extends beyond journalism, embodying the fight for equality and justice, and paving the way for future generations of women and African Americans in media and activism.

Celebrating The Enduring Impact of Women in Printing

Our celebration of these seven pioneers during Women’s History Month is not just an acknowledgment of their contributions to printing and publishing but a tribute to their indelible mark on history.

As we reflect on the stories of these remarkable women, it’s clear that their legacies extend far beyond the pages they printed and the causes they championed. They were pioneers not only in the printing and publishing industry but also in the broader struggle for equality and representation.