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The country’s first female publisher made headlines in Charleston

The country’s first female publisher made headlines in Charleston
December 2020

Learn the trailblazing story of Elizabeth Timothy

Two printing presses from the time period; (inset) Elizabeth Timothy

It might have taken a long time for women to dominate the news media, with female owners often a rarity: but not here, not historically. On December 30, 1738, Elizabeth Timothy of Charles Towne became the first woman newspaper editor and publisher in North America. On that day, when her husband, Lewis Timothy, died, she stepped in to run the South Carolina Gazette so successfully that Benjamin Franklin wrote in praise of her ability to lead a career and family simultaneously.

Born in the Netherlands in 1702 and educated there, Elizabeth married Lewis, a Huguenot. The couple moved to Philadelphia with their children in 1731, where Lewis negotiated with Ben Franklin for newspaper-printing franchise, the Gazette. 

Lewis relocated here in 1733, and Elizabeth followed with their family. At the time her husband died from yellow fever, men dominated everything. But while her eldest son, Peter, a minor, put his name on the masthead, Elizabeth took control and assumed the Benjamin Franklin contract—making her the first female franchisee in America and the province’s official printer. After Peter took over the newspaper in 1746, she opened a bookstore next door on King Street. 

Elizabeth died in Charleston in 1757, but continued making news, as an inductee in the SC Press and Business halls of fame in 1973 and 2000, respectively.