Today, two women printers begin and end our season
as an English colony. The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series about
the machines that make our civilization run, and
the people whose ingenuity created them.
In the 1670s William
Berkeley, Governor of Virginia, wrote,
I thank God, there are no free schools nor
printing [in Virginia]; for learning has brought
disobedience, and heresy ... and printing has
divulged them, and libels against the best
government. God keep us from both.
There would be no printing press in Virginia until
half a century after Berkeley's appalling
Settlers first came to Virginia in 1607, and they
didn't print books until 123 years later -- until
1730. The Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth in 1620,
and only 18 years later a woman named Mrs. Glover began printing books in
The reason Virginia was so slow to take up printing
was tobacco. She was England's prime supplier.
England didn't want educated citizens. England
wanted to feed its new habit. In 1682, the Crown
flatly ordered that, in Virginia, "no person be
permitted to use any press for printing upon any
Not until 1730 did a Virginia governor let a
printer set up shop in Williamsburg. Almost
immediately a local poet published an ode in praise
of the governor. The governor's name was Gooch. The
poetry was wonderful 18th-century schlock:
Truth, Justice, Vertue, be persu'd
Arts flourish, Peace shall crown the Plains,
Where GOOCH administers, AUGUSTUS reigns.
Printing hadn't changed much since Gutenberg's day.
It was a terribly complex technology that took
enormous craftsmanship. The Williamsburg shop
typically had a dozen technicians under the
direction of a master printer. A sequence of twelve
such masters ran the shop during the Colonial
period. The seventh in that succession was a woman
named Clementina Rind.
She was in charge of Williamsburg's press in 1774
-- on the eve of American Revolution. That year
Thomas Jefferson fell ill and couldn't attend the
first Continental Congress. So he wrote a talk to
be read before the other delegates. The title was,
"A Summary View of the Rights of British America."
The pamphlet radicalized the Colonial cause and
stirred passions. Then Clementina Rind printed the
text. Copies went to England. That pamphlet was the
embryo of the Declaration of Independence. It
really was the first shot fired in the Revolution.
So our story today is laced with subtle ironies.
Ironies about gender and liberation -- tobacco and
illiteracy. The greatest irony is that Governor
Berkeley had been right all along.
Printing really did raise disobedience against the
government. And God help us if we ever live in a
world where that cannot happen. For the written
word, paper or electronic, is the means by which
ideas flow. And it is ultimately our own ideas that
make of us -- a free people.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds