Newspaper publisher. Little is known of Elizabeth Timothy’s origins and early life. Benjamin Franklin described her as “born and bred in Holland.” She was married to Louis Timothée, a French-born immigrant from Rotterdam. Together with their four young children, the couple sailed to Philadelphia in 1731. Louis worked as a French instructor and soon after established an association with Franklin, who helped him become a journeyman printer for the Pennsylvania Gazette. In November 1733 Franklin established Louis in a six-year business partnership as the new printer of the South-Carolina Gazette. While Louis prepared the first issue of his Charleston newspaper, Elizabeth settled family business in Philadelphia before moving her family to South Carolina in March 1734. The family became established members of lowcountry society. The name Louis was anglicized to “Lewis” and Timothée became “Timothy,” and the family was registered at St. Philip’s Church. By 1736 Lewis Timothy prospered as a landholder and printer, serving as the official colonial printer for South Carolina. In December 1738 Lewis died as the result of “an unhappy Accident,” leaving Elizabeth in the care of “six small Children and another hourly expected.” She had already mourned the loss of two of her children by 1737.
According to the arrangement between her husband and Franklin, Elizabeth’s eldest son, Peter, was to carry on the business in the event of his father’s death. But because of Peter’s youth, she assumed control of the printing office as well as responsibility for her family. The newly widowed Elizabeth published the next issue of the Gazette on January 4, 1739, pledging “to make it as entertaining and correct as may be reasonably expected.” By the end of the year, she bought out Franklin’s interest in the partnership and became the first woman in the American colonies to own and publish a newspaper. Franklin praised her regular and exact accounting and commended her for both raising a family and purchasing the printing operation from him.
Elizabeth gradually relinquished control of printing operations when Peter came of age in 1746. Requests for payment from the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly from 1740 to 1743 in Elizabeth’s name show her reliance on the revenues as public printer. In addition to publishing the Gazette and colonial laws, she sold legal blanks, broadsides, and stationery and established a bookstore adjacent to her son’s printing office.
Elizabeth drafted her will on April 2, 1757, and was buried two days later at St. Philip’s Church. She bequeathed to her children personal property, eight slaves, and household items. In Peter’s care she also left a silver watch belonging to her late husband, with the intent that he leave it to his son. Through her son Peter, daughter-in-law Ann, and grandson Benjamin Franklin Timothy, Elizabeth ensured that the Timothy printing legacy in South Carolina would continue for three generations.
Baker, Ira L. “Elizabeth Timothy: America’s First Woman Editor.” Journalism Quarterly 54 (summer 1977): 280–85.
Cohen, Hennig. The South Carolina Gazette, 1732–1775. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1953.
King, Martha J. “Making an Impression: Women Printers of the Southern Colonies in the Revolutionary Era.” Ph.D. diss., College of William and Mary, 1992.