Anne Catharine Green: A Colonial Lady at the Newspaper Helm
Precious few are the portraits of colonial newspaper editors, that blessed band who did so much to pave the way toward American independence.
Of equal rarity are images of the handful of colonial women who rated distinction on their own merit. On two counts then, Charles Willson Peale’s depiction of Anne Catharine Green (c. 1720–1775)—editor of the Maryland Gazette and public printer to the province of Maryland—is a portrait of unusual interest. This portrait is on view at the National Portrait Gallery, in the museum’s “American Origins” exhibition on the first floor.
Born in Holland, Anne Catharine Hoof married former Benjamin Franklin apprentice Jonas Green in 1738. She moved with him to Annapolis, where he became printer to the province and in 1745 revived the defunct Maryland Gazette. Her husband’s printing office (the site of an archeological dig in the 1980s) was behind their dwelling, which still stands on Charles Street. Mrs. Green, in addition to bearing fourteen children (six of whom lived to grow up), was a participant in her husband’s business affairs, capable of carrying them on should the need arise.
Jonas Green died on April 11, 1767, and his widow, noting that she was “almost destitute of Support,” told subscribers to the Gazette “I flatter myself, that, with your kind Indulgence and Encouragement,” she would continue the newspaper and stood ready to print advertisements. Fulfilling her husband’s contract with the government, she saw to it that the Acts and Votes and Proceedings of the Maryland Assembly was finished, as promised, by the last day of April. (A year later, she would be awarded the contract in her own name.)
The widow Green began her tenure when the colonies were in political ferment over the Townshend duties imposed on glass, lead, painter’s colors, paper, and tea; death ended her task a month before shots rang out on Lexington Green. In addition to providing national and foreign news, she gave space to all parties in local controversies, undeterred by a threat to wreck her press. Looking beyond polemics, she instigated a “Poet's Corner” and, despite the torrent of political happenings, managed to wedge in essays on topics such as the advantage of a liberal education.
Anne Catharine Green’s obituary, published in the March 30, 1775, edition of the Maryland Gazette, identified her as the widow of the late Mr. Jonas Greene, lauding her only as a wife and mother: “She was of a mild and benevolent Disposition, and for conjugal Affection and parental Tenderness, an Example of her Sex.” But Charles Willson Peale—showing her not with a book or a flower or needlework, but rather with her newspaper in hand—indicates that she was a professional woman as well.