August 22 – First Female Editor of American Newspaper

Posted on August 22, 2016

When we talk about someone named “Franklin” printing stuff in Colonial America, I think of Benjamin Franklin.

(I also think of him as a kite flier and as author of Poor Richard's Almanac and and and...a lot of things!)

But before Benjamin Franklin became a newspaper printer / publisher, he was an apprentice to his older brother, printer / publisher James Franklin. Ben had to take over for James with The New England Courant, based in Boston, Massachusetts, because James was punished for printing negative opinions about church and governmental authorities. James was first imprisoned and then court-ordered not to publish the Courant any longer. James moved on to an entirely different colony, Rhode Island.

During all of this – the accusation / jail / court order / move – James Franklin was married to a woman named Ann Smith Franklin. She made the move to Rhode Island, too, and together the two launched Rhode Island's first newspaper, The Rhode Island Gazette.

That was in 1732.

Ann Smith Franklin gave birth to five children. She prepared meals, raised and educated her children, did the housekeeping, AND set type, operated the printing press, and sold paper and books in the Franklin's small shop.

Yes, she basically did the equivalent of five full-time jobs!

In 1735, James died. Ann now had the full responsibility of supporting their children. She was able to land a contract to print the official publications of the General Assembly of Rhode Island. This mean she printed law books, election ballots, legal forms, and even Rhode Island's currency (money)!

It may be hard to read, but this says,
"Printed by the Widow Franklin."

She also did a lot of other sorts of printing. Sermons, ads, popular books, broadsides (large sheets of paper that could be posted here and there – pretty much an old-fashioned sort of social media!).

And almanacs! Almanacs were popular back in colonial America. They contained a calendar, astronomical events, weather predictions, and wisdom in the form of quotes. Ann Franklin became the first woman in America to write an almanac.

You probably know that many babies and children died before they could become adults, back then, partly because of illnesses that we now are able to vaccinate against. Ann Franklin had to endure two of her children dying at a young age, but three of her children survived and became good helpers in the printing business. Eventually her son apprenticed with his uncle, Benjamin.

In 1758, Ann and her son James began to publish the Newport Mercury. Unfortunately, Ann's daughters had both died, and in 1762, her son died as well.

At that point, Ann Smith Franklin was 65 years old. She had outlived her husband and five children. She was in poor health. Still, she did not miss a single issue of the Mercury.

It is on this date in 1762 that people consider that Ann became the sole editor of the newspaper—a first in Colonial America!

Ann Franklin died in 1763. Her legacy lives on, though – she was the first woman inducted into the University of Rhode Island's Journalism Hall of Fame.

Also on this date:

Russian Flag Day

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