Young Anna, having fled the German Palatinate with her family, made the journey through Rotterdam, then England, and eventually New York City as part of the emigration of German Reformed refugees seeking religious liberty. A young boy on that same journey would one day become her husband – John Peter Zenger. The couple married on 11 September 1722 in Manhattan‘s Dutch Reformed Church.
It is common today, but fanciful, to imagine Anna as the “brains” behind her famous husband. Such recasting of history does damage not only to the truth, but ignores that Anna’s real courage exceeds the fanciful version. Anna was Reformed, meaning her and Peter’s marriage was a covenantal partnership. There is nothing to suggest that she was manipulative. Indeed, the facts suggest she was a confidante, friend, and helper to her spouse. It is with his untimely death that Anna’s character shines forth.
Women had few civil rights in law, but in practice, a widow often had no choice but to carry on alone the deceased partner’s fate or business. It wasn’t a choice. It was an imperative. Since printing was all she knew, she immediately contacted the print shop’s customers, and the newspaper’s patrons, asking them to continue their patronage. Thankfully, many did, and the paper remained a voice for those committed to liberty.
It is quite one thing to choose a career, quite another to have one thrust upon you. Anna had a family to support, and rose to the occasion, in passing, becoming America’s first female newspaper publisher. Today, there are numerous newspaper and journalism awards named in her honor. She would, we suspect, be surprised by all the attention.