When Elizabeth Timothy’s husband died in an accident a few days before Christmas, in 1738, she had five children, the oldest thirteen, and a baby expected “hourly.” I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine myself in a worse situation. Christmas time is hard enough for me having only two children. To be hit with the loss of a husband would be unbearable.
Lewis Timothy was partners with Benjamin Franklin and operated the South Carolina Gazette in Charleston. The contract that he had made with Benjamin Franklin still had a year left on it when he died; the boy Peter was named to take over the business. But Peter was only thirteen years old. Elizabeth calmly stepped into the printing room and made a statement to the public: She would now be managing the publication of the newspaper, listing her son Peter Timothy as publisher. Elizabeth ran the South-Carolina Gazette for eight years, until Peter turned twenty-one. After that, she published other books and pamphlets and ran a shop which sold writing materials and books. She is now known as the first woman publisher in America.
The women in those days had a lot to do. Many probably had help with the cooking and housework, if they had husbands in business and weren’t living in a cabin scratching out a living from a cornfield and a garden; nonetheless, the wives of businessmen had a busy life. Not only were they managing a household, bearing and tending their children, who were often numerous (when they survived), but they were acting as bookkeepers and assistants to the businessmen themselves.
Of course that hard work was necessary for the success of the business and the family. From our perspective today, maybe Elizabeth’s life wasn’t that different from ours; we and our husbands both work jobs, and we women take most of the responsibility of managing the children and the household.
But what if we lost our partner? How many of us would be able to step into our husband’s shoes and do his job in addition to our own? And do it while pregnant or with a nursing baby? I know I wouldn’t have the energy—physical or mental.
Elizabeth Timothy is an important character in the history of Charleston and the publishing business in America. She was inducted into the South Carolina Press Association Hall of Fame in 1973 and the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2000. As a writer, I can only hope to a fraction as successful; but maybe, one day, after I’ve been dead a couple of hundred years . . . who knows? Maybe I’ll get my name on a plaque somewhere.