Meet Charleston’s first businesswoman

South Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

How Elizabeth Timothy helmed the South-Carolina Gazette

On this day 280 years ago, Elizabeth Timothy made history by becoming the first female publisher + franchise holder in the United States. And where did she accomplish this? In Charleston (then Charles Town).

Elizabeth Timothy portrait by Henry Benbridge | Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Elizabeth Timothy portrait by Henry Benbridge | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth was a trailblazer even by today’s standards. As a mother of six, she already had her hands full when she took over as head publisher at her late husband’s newspaper company– the South Carolina Gazette. Back then, it was rare for a woman to play such a crucial role in a company– even if it was a family business. However, Elizabeth, who is remembered for her strong business acumen, was able to grow her husband’s company to new heights during her seven years as publisher.

Elizabeth and her husband Lewis were originally from the Netherlands but immigrated to the U.S. with other French Huguenots in 1731. The couple initially settled in Philadelphia, where they became close friends with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had taken note of Lewis because of his fluency in multiple languages, ultimately hiring him to take over his Charleston-based newspaper, the South Carolina Gazette, in 1733.

The two men had a six-year contract in place, splitting ownership of the business. However, Lewis became ill with yellow fever in 1738 and passed away with one year remaining in the franchise agreement. At the time, it was common for the eldest son to take over in these circumstances. But Peter, the oldest son, was only 13 at the time and too inexperienced to run a business by himself.

Elizabeth, with the support of Franklin, ultimately decided she would step in and fulfill the contract herself. On January 4, 1739, less than two weeks after her husband’s death–  Elizabeth published her first newspaper. Peter’s name was signed as the author, which was customary at the time, but Elizabeth let readers know she was in charge.

Elizabeth’s vision for the paper ultimately made it more successful than ever before. She filled the pages with excerpts of poetry, dramas, up-and-coming southern authors, + international news from Europe. What readers most looked forward to, though, was her advertisement section. She would include sales for local goods such as books, stationery, and house supplies.

After only a year in business, Elizabeth was able to purchase the printing house from Benjamin Franklin. She operated as head publisher for six more years before Peter came of age to take over. However, Elizabeth stayed active in the community, opening up a small bookstore on King St.

Today, Elizabeth is remembered for her sharp business sense and commitment to the Charleston community. She was inducted to the South Carolina Press Association Hall of Fame in 1973 as the first female publisher. She is buried in the cemetery at St. Phillips Church and has a plaque devoted to her near vendue range– where her print shop initially stood.

Elizabeth Timothy Plaque at the Vendue Hotel | Photo by @iprotagonistllc
Elizabeth Timothy Plaque at the Vendue Hotel | Photo by @iprotagonistllc

Elizabeth Timothy paved the way for women in the U.S. in more ways than one. As a mother, business owner, + writer she inspires us at CHSToday to strive toward providing our readers with great stories + news every day.

Do you know any other inspirational Charleston women we should write about? Let us know in the comments below.

– Gaby