At the July 4, 1818, anniversary of its founding the New York Typographical Society celebrated with one of its typical ceremonies. Since its establishment in 1809, the Society had commemorated its anniversary every year with an evening of toasts and odes dedicated to the art of printing. Those in attendance at the 1818 event toasted typographical societies, “forms firmly locked up and well justified,” Benjamin Franklin, “who, from a small capital, acquired a capital reputation,” and the Declaration of Independence, “the proof sheet of American sufferings.” They also toasted the “fair sex,” which deserved a place only as the “frontispiece of Nature’s great work–may they only grace the title of competent workmen.”
Yes, very funny. While the Society paid its respects to women, it also excluded them from its ranks throughout its short life as a wage regulating organization. The U.S. saw typographical societies, such as the New York, Franklin, Philadelphia, Albany, Baltimore, and Columbia typographical societies, come and go throughout the nineteenth century. Women could be considered as temporary replacements for striking workers, but they were not admitted as members until the International Typographical Union resolved to admit women in 1869.
Women had long been involved in printing, and union recognition was just one stage in their long association with the trade. They often worked as assistants to their better-known husbands, as household managers, and as keepers of finances. The names of some prominent female printer-businesswomen active during the colonial and early national periods might be familiar: Dinah Nuthead, the first woman to operate a press in colonial British North America; Ann Franklin, wife of James and sister-in-law to Benjamin and Colony printer in Rhode Island; Catherina Zenger, who continued operating her husband John Peter’s press after his imprisonment; Clementina Rind, the first female printer in Virginia, who printed Jefferson’s Summary View of the Rights of British America; and Lydia Bailey, one of the first female printers in Philadelphia and the subject of a recent book, Lydia Bailey: A Checklist of Her Imprints, by Karen Nipps. AAS does not exclude female printers, and our library is full of early American works printed and even owned by them, such as the receipt book once owned by Lydia Bailey and used by Nipps in her research.
So this July 4th, let’s toast the fair sex, who might sometimes be a second, but who are always a more perfect, edition.