The town of Newport, Rhode Island, is known for a long list of firsts. One of these firsts was Ann Franklin, the sister-in-law of Benjamin Franklin, who became the first female newspaper editor in the colonial United States.
Benjamin Franklin was known for his almanacs. His brother, James, was jailed in Boston for his “wicked” columns in the New England Courant. Disenchanted with Boston and its Puritanical authoritarianism, James and his wife, Ann, moved their family to Rhode Island. He set up shop in Newport.
However in 1735, when Ann was only 39 years old, she was tragically widowed. She already worked in the publishing business with her husband and knew the trade. She was resourceful, educated, and clever. She had three young children to support and knew the printing business. She petitioned the Rhode Island General Assembly to allow her to continue with her husband’s business, which granted her request. She published the colony’s first newspaper, the Newport Mercury (formerly called the Rhode Island Gazette).
Ann Smith Franklin died in 1768. During her life she oversaw and personally printed currency, almanacs, sermons, British novels, advertisements, and even the Rhode Island Colony’s royal charter granted by Charles II. She became the General Assembly’s official printer for the colony. She was inducted posthumously into the University of Rhode Island’s Journalism Hall of Fame, the first woman to receive this honor.
Her obituary was printed in her newspaper, describing her as a woman of “economy and industry,” who “supported herself and her family, and brought up her children in a genteel manner.”
She is buried in the Common Burial Ground and Island Cemetery in Newport, where her gravestone stands towering over her husband’s. The weathering has worn down the name on the tombstone, but nothing can erase the fortitude with which she lived her life in a world and industry where women were not considered competent.
Know Before You Go
There are maps of the graveyard provided at the entrances to the graveyard. Her grave is marked by a small reflective yellow pole.