Ann Smith Franklin was born on October 2, 1696 to Samuel and Anna Smith. Raised in Boston as a Puritan, not much is known about her childhood except that she was well educated. On February 4th 1723, at around age 27, Ann married James Franklin (older brother of Benjamin Franklin) who was a printer and publisher of the New England Courant. In Boston, James denounced Puritan theocracy and was soon jailed for a short term sentence. His prison sentence resulted in the end of his printing for the Courant. Instead of continuing to deal with the hard censorship of Boston, James and Ann took their leave to Newport R.I. where James’ brother John – who was a tallow chandler – lived.
Now in Newport, James and Ann created Newport colony’s first newspaper in 1732 called the Rhode Island Gazette. For this, Ann helped her husband in the printing process. She set up the print type, ran the press, and even sold the books and newspapers. Ann was a very hardworking woman. Having had five children – only three of whom are said to have survived into adulthood – she still managed to take care of not only them, but also the household while still working in the printing process. Unfortunately, in 1735 Ann became a widow when James died of an illness leaving her alone with their children.
Having to take care of their children on her own now, Ann Franklin needed more money so she decided to appeal to the General Assembly of Rhode Island for a contract. After successfully acquiring a contract in 1736, Ann Franklin became the General Assembly’s official printer. As the official printer of the General Assembly, Ann printed the colony’s money and election ballots. In order to make sufficient funds to take care of her family, she also needed to take on a few other jobs such as working for ministers and printing sermons.
Ann Franklin petition to the General Assembly, 1736
Eventually, Ann Franklin restored the Rhode Island Almanac which made her into the first American woman to write an almanac. Soon after, in 1741 Ann began selling Benjamin Franklin’s almanac titled Poor Richard’s Almanac. Then is 1745, she printed 500 copies of the Acts and Laws of his Majesty’s colony of Rhode Island, and Providence Plantations, in New England, In America, Newport, Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, her son James had been sent to Philadelphia to work under Benjamin Franklin. When he returned from his apprenticeship under his uncle, Ann and her son created the Newport Mercury in 1748, which is still in print today, under the name “Ann and James Franklin.”
By this time Ann Franklin was moving up in age so she slowly began relieving herself from most of her previous printing duties, passing them on to her son James. However, Anne's two daughters and son would would die before her. At the age of 65, Ann Franklin went back to printing full time. Eventually she took on a business partner, Samuel Hall, until her death on April 16, 1763. Ann Franklin was inducted in the Journalism Hall of Fame in Rhode Island in 1985.