Home    Colonel Andrew Balfour    News & Notes    The Descendants     About this Site     Family Stories    Photos        

Post Office Papers     Documents & Other Stuff     GEDCOM     Search    Message Board     E-mail to Us      Links  

~

WOMEN POSTMASTERS

SERVING AMERICA FOR OVER TWO CENTURIES

 Colonial Times

Few people are aware that women have served as postmasters since the beginning of the United States Postal Service in 1775, a proud tradition of over 215 years.

Mary Kathleen Goddard, postmaster at Baltimore, Maryland, was the first (and only) woman postmaster at the time of the establishment of the Continental Post Office for the “United Colonies” on July 26, 1775.  Miss Goddard also ran a bookshop in Baltimore and published a newspaper, The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, that rivaled the nation’s best newspapers and was the only one in Baltimore from July 1779 to May 1783.

Her brother, William Goddard, also played an important role in the early development of the mail service in this century.  It is believed that Miss Goddard’s original appointment as postmaster of Baltimore was made by her brother under his “Constitutional Post,” which provided mail service for the colonists for several months prior to the creation of the postal system under the Continental Congress.  She later received a formal commission signed by Postmaster General Richard Bache on August 12, 1779.

Miss Goddard was removed from her position in November 1789, apparently for only political reasons, as no reasonable cause was given by Postmaster General Samuel Osgood.  Some 230 citizens of Baltimore sent a petition to Osgood urging her reinstatement, but he refused on the grounds that he had the right to exercise his own judgment.  Goddard also wrote to both President Washington and the United States Senate, but neither intervened on her behalf.

Prior to 1775, the British had also appointed women postmasters for their Royal postal system in the colonies, including a Mrs. Lydia Hall, who reportedly served for many years as postmaster at Salem, Massachusetts, before her death in 1768.  In addition, Benjamin Franklin’s sister-in-law Elizabeth Hubbert Franklin, may have also served as postmaster of Boston, Massachusetts, for a short time following the death of her husband John Franklin in 1756.  Although this claim, made by Carl Van Doran in his book, Benjamin Franklin, has not been verified by other records, it is possible that Elizabeth Franklin handled the duties temporarily before a new postmaster was appointed.  John Franklin had been appointed postmaster of Boston by his brother Ben in 1754.

The only other woman postmaster known to have served before 1789 is Elizabeth Cres(s)well, who is shown in Post Office Department Ledger A as postmaster at Charlestown, Maryland, in 1786.

The first woman postmaster after the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, was Mrs. Sarah DeCrow, who was appointed at the Hertford, North Carolina, Post Office on September 27, 1792.  She apparently attempted to resign her position on several occasions, because of the small compensation she received as postmaster.  In a letter to her on November 29, 1794, Assistant Postmaster General Charles Burrall stated:

“I am sensible that the emolument of the office cannot be much inducement to you to keep it (the postmastership), nor to any Gentleman to accept of it, yet I flatter myself someone may be found willing to do the business, rather than the town and it’s neighbourhood should be deprived of the business of a Post Office."

In 1795, Thomas McNider succeeded Sarah DeCrow as postmaster at Hertford.

On May 28, 1796, Postmaster General Joseph Habersham advised Postmaster Isaac Abbott, as follows:

“Your daughter may act as your assistant after the oath required by law.”  In an entry in Letter Book F, dated August 1, 1798, Postmaster General Joseph Habersham states: “Appointed Mrs. Rebecca Morton at the office of Warwick, Maryland, in the room of John Morton.”  She served until late 1801.

Nineteenth Century

During the nineteenth century, any doubts about whether women could serve effectively, especially at the larger post offices, were put to rest by the examples of several enterprising ladies.

For example, Mrs. Ann Moore was appointed to the post office of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on May 9, 1809.  She was succeeded by another woman, Mrs. Mary Dickson, who was appointed on April 11, 1829, and served until 1850.  Mrs. Ellen H. Hager was also postmaster later at Lancaster from 1872 until about 1876.  

At the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Post Office, Mrs. Rose Wright was appointed postmaster on March 9, 1814, although there was apparently some controversy surrounding her appointment.  In a letter of February 17, 1814,to N. B. Boileau, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Postmaster General Gideon Granger stated that “My feelings would lead me to appoint Mrs. Wright in conformity to the wishes expressed in her recommendation, but the Post Office Law has been revised and altered since the appointment of Mrs. Moore [Ann Moore, Postmaster of Lancaster, 1809-1829] and a doubt has been suggested to me from a source I ought to respect as to the strict legality of appointing a female and on a careful examination of the law I incline to . . .believe that the doubt may be well founded.”

The Post Office Law referred to by Gideon Granger, passed in 1810, contains no specific provision prohibiting the appointment of women postmasters, and it is not known on what section(s) the Postmaster General based his opinion.  It may be that because all pronoun substituted for “postmaster” in the Act are in the masculine case that this was construed to indicate that women should not be appointed postmasters.

Despite Granger’s doubt about appointing a woman postmaster, however, Mrs. Wright was chosen to head the Harrisburg Post Office less than a month after his above letter.  She continued as postmaster for over eight years until 1822.

The second postmaster of the Southington, Hartford County, Connecticut, Post Office was Mrs. Rhoda Lewis, appointed on April 16, 1808.  She was succeeded in the position by Chester Whittlesy, appointed on February 19, 1818.  On March 3rd of that year, however Post Office General Return J. Meigs, Jr. addressed a letter to her as follows: “. . . [I] am pleased to find that you are ready to pay the balance due from you as it will enable me to continue you in office,” and his postscript added “Mr. Whittlesy will give up the office to you, provided payments are made as above, [as] he has no desire to take the office from you.”  The appointment records, however do not indicate she was ever reinstated as postmaster.

On December 17, 1812, Mrs. Susannah Wylie (or Wiley) was appointed postmaster of the Georgetown Post Office in Washington, D. C.  She served for over five years.  Harriet H. Corcoran was appointed to the same office on December 18, 1834, and served until about June 1840.

The appointment of a new postmaster at Columbus, Ohio, in 1847, following the death of the incumbent, General Jacob Medary, brought out some apparent discrimination against female postmasters.  Messrs. Allen and Medill of that city wrote to Postmaster General Cave Johnson, recommending that Medary’s widow be appointed to succeed her husband.  In a letter dated April 2, 1847, however, the Postmaster General replied as follows:

. .[it] has not been the practice of the Department to appoint females . . .at the larger offices; the duties required of them are many and important and often of a character that ladies could not be expected to perform; the personal supervision of the duties within the offices; the receipt and dispatch of the mails at all times day or night; the constant watch necessary to be kept over the conduct of contractors and carriers and other agents of the department; the superintendence of mail service generally within the vicinity of the office; the pursuit and arrest of mail depredators; and prosecutions for violations of the post office laws; are duties that could not be dispensed with at such an office as Columbus without serious injury to the public service and could not with propriety be exacted of a lady.  A strong appeal was made to this Department in behalf of the widow of the late Senator Linn of Missouri, for the appointment to the office at St. Louis; her appointment was urged by many leading members of Congress, of the Legislature of Missouri and many distinguished citizens in different Sections of the Union, yet, I felt myself constrained from a sense of duty to the public to advise the President against the appointment. 

The Postmaster General’s views apparently prevailed, as Samuel Medary rather than the postmaster’s widow was appointed postmaster of Columbus on April 5, 1847.

Cave Johnson’s claim that a woman could not manage one of the larger post offices, however, does not appear consistent with the service of other women postmasters at the time.

When his above letter was written, for instance, Mary Dickson was postmaster of Lancaster, Pennsylvania (see above) and her salary of $1, 305.37 for the fiscal year 1847 was the fifth highest in the state behind the postmasters of Erie, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In addition, at the time of Johnson’s letter, Mrs. Ann Gentry had been postmaster of the Columbia, Missouri, Post Office for over nine years (her original appointment was on February 20, 1838).   In 1849, her salary of $365.35 and the post office’s net revenues of $544.99 were among the fifth or sixth highest in the state of Missouri.  In fact, the Columbia Post Office was headed by a woman postmaster from 1838 until 1876, except for a brief period from November 1865 to March 1867.  Mrs. Gentry was replaced in 1865 by Paul Hubbard, appointed on November 1st.  Mrs. Frances E. Lathrop was appointed on March 18, 1867, and served until about September 1876.  

Finally, in 1847, Susan W. Thruston was also serving as postmaster of the Greenville, South Carolina, Post Office, which had one of the ten highest revenues in the state that year.  Ms. Thruston was appointed postmaster on October 9, 1843, and served until about 1861.

Women postmasters continued to manage some of the larger post offices in the country  in the latter half of the 1800s.  Two women postmasters, for instance, ran the Louisville, Kentucky, Post Office continuously from 1869 to 1890.  Mrs. Lucy M. Porter was the first female postmaster appointed there on December 22, 1869, and she was followed by Mrs. Virginia G. Thompson, who was appointed on October 31, 1877, and served until about July 1890.

In Springfield, Missouri, Mrs. Permlia C. Stevens was postmaster from 1867 to 1877.  At Fort Worth, Texas, Mrs. Dorcas Williams was postmaster from 1866 to 1867; and Ida L. Turner from 1894 to 1901.  In San Antonio, Texas, Mrs. Margaret E. Norris served as postmaster from 1876 to 1879.  The fifth postmaster of the Birmingham, Alabama, Post Office, Alice Green, appointed in 1883, was also a woman.  The Cheyenne, Wyoming, Post Office was managed by Mrs. Susan R. Johnson from 1880 to 1884.  In Tennessee, Ann B. Cheatam was postmaster of Nashville from 1886 to 1888 and Anna D. H. Thompson was postmaster of Memphis from 1878 to 1882.  The Huntsville, Alabama, Post Office was also headed by a woman, Mary L. Clay, who was appointed on March 26, 1887, and served until about June 1889.  In Charlottesville, Virginia, Mrs. Mary H. Sumner Long was postmaster from 1877 to 1901; in Manassas, Virginia, Mrs. L. Adelia Pine served from 1873 to 1882, and Mildred H. Davies from 1893 to 1901.  Annie B. Kenna was postmaster of Charleston, West Virginia, from 1893 to 1898.

Marshall Cushing, in his book, The Story of Our Post Office, published in 1893, gives brief biographical sketches of several women postmasters at that time, including:

Mrs. Mary E. P. Bogert, Postmaster at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (who “kept a general supervision of every department of the office, giving personal care to all details, stimulating   each employee to give to his work the best that was in him . . .”);

Mrs. Mary H. Sumner Long, at Charlottesville, Virginia (“a lady of marked social and literary tastes and acquirements, as well as of great business capacity”);

Mrs. Lucy S. Miller, at Mariposa, California (before the “mail reaches Mariposa at five in the morning, summer and winter . . .Mrs. Winter is faithfully at her post”);

Mrs. Flora H. Hawes at Hot Springs, Arkansas, (“ a remarkable woman . . .[whose] family is among the most notable and influential in that state”); and

Mrs. E. A. S. Mixon, at Barnwell, South Carolina, (“one of the brightest {women postmasters} in the whole service”). 

Cushing also cites a “recent computation” of 6,335 women postmasters, with the largest number in Pennsylvania (463) and Virginia (460), and comments that a “whole book could be written about the many admirable women [postmasters] who work away with all their tact and business prudence. .trying to please their patrons and the Department alike, and pleasing both because they try . . .Sometimes they are the most important persons in their towns.”

Twentieth Century

By the end of the nineteenth century, according to a report on the employment of women in the Postal Service, over 10 percent of the 70,000 post offices in the country were headed by women.  The report also states that although postmasters at third- and fourth-class post offices chose their own employees without consulting the Department, there were “perhaps 80,000 women to whom the oath of office has been administered to qualify them to assist in conducting the business of the post offices.”

The 1906 Annual Report of the Postmaster General also indicates that there were 194 women assistant postmasters in first- and second-class post offices on June30, 1906.

In the early 1900s, Eva M. Marshall served as postmaster of Flagstaff, Arizona, from 1906 to 1914.  The first postmaster of the Las Vegas, Nevada, Post Office was Helen J. Stewart, who served from 1893 to 1904.  Mrs. Nellie B. Brimberry was also appointed to the Albany, Georgia, Post Office on December 16, 1909, and served until April 1933, except for a brief period from May 1923 to October 1924.

The first woman postmaster at Tampa, Florida, was appointed on January 26, 1923.  In a press release announcing the appointment of Elizabeth D. Barnard at Tampa, the Post Office Department reported that “for the first time in the history of the Post Office Department a woman has been appointed to a postmastership at a salary of $6,000 annually.”  She served until July 1933.  The same release mentions the nomination of Mrs. Allie K. Dickerman at Tucson, Arizona, at a “substantial salary” of $3,600 a year.  She was appointed Acting Postmaster on June 30, 1922, and Postmaster on January 26, 1923, serving until approximately May 1930.

In the 1930s and 1940s, postmasterships were awarded to women in cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska; Jonesboro and Little Rock, Arkansas ; Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Des Moines, Iowa; Ashland, Kentucky; Portland, Maine; Jackson, Mississippi; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Roanoke, Virginia.

The 1943 Annual Report of the Postmaster General indicates that there were over 17,500 women serving as postmasters at that time.  In August 1949, 17,166 of the 41,575 postmasters were women.

A feature press release on “lady Postmasters” issued by the Post Office Department on February 3, 1958, states that a “recent check shows the Post Office Department has 15,751 lady postmasters, which is probably the largest number of women branch managers of any business type operation in the world …”  Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield noted that “With our near 16,000 women postmasters representing close to half of our entire management staff, we believe it is fair to say the American Post Office Department . . .recognizes the management abilities of women perhaps more than any other private or governmental organization anywhere.”

The release also mentions several women postmasters (or acting postmasters) who headed post offices with more than a million dollars in annual receipts, including Hackensack and Union, New Jersey; Corpus Christi, Texas; Boys Town, Nebraska; and Beverly Hills, California.

In the 1960s, the following women were appointed at some of the major post offices in the United States: Mrs. Marguerite S. Fanning, appointed Acting Postmaster of Burbank, California, on March 30, 1962, and Postmaster on December 21, 1963, serving until March 1971; Claire C. Moroney, Acting Postmaster of the Pleasantville, New York , Post Office from !961 to 1964; Mrs. Kay B. Omer, Postmaster at Van Nuys, California, from 1060 to 1972; Mrs. Ingrid V. Wells, Acting Postmaster of Duluth, Minnesota, from 1963 to 1965; Mrs. Berniece Hill Salermo, at Lansing , Michigan, appointed Acting Postmaster on May 5, 1961, and Postmaster on August 22, 1964, serving until February 1978; and Mrs. Kathryn S. Wilson, appointed Actong Postmaster on May 12, 1961, and Postmaster on July 26, 1963, at Pasadena, California, serving until March 1984.

The latter, Mrs. Kathryn S. Wilson, was also the first woman to head a Management Sectional Center (MSC).  Mrs. Berniece Salermo also later became an MSC Manager/Postmaster at Lansing.

Since Postal Reorganization in 1971, women have served as MSC Manager/Postmasters at many offices across the country, including; Montgomery, Alabama; Fairbanks, Alaska; Jonesboro, Arkansas; North Bay, California; San Diego and San Francisco, California (later Field Divisions); Wilmington, Delaware; North Suburban, Illinois; Fort Wayne, Gary and Terre Haute, Indiana; Topeka, Kansas; Ashland, Bowling Green, and Lexington, Kentucky; Bangor, Maine; Shreveport, Louisiana; Middlesex-Essex, Massachusetts; Kalamazoo and Lansing, Michigan; Gulfport and Tupelo, Mississippi; Columbia, Missouri; Missoula, Montana; North Platte, Nebraska; Poughkeepsie, Syracuse and Utica, New York; Raleigh, North Carolina; Bismarck, North Dakota; Toledo, Youngstown and Zanesville, Ohio; Oklahoma City (later a Field Division) and Tulsa, Oklahoma; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Nashville, Tennessee (later a Field Division); Austin and Beaumont, Texas; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Madison, Wisconsin.

Since the establishment of Field Divisions in March 1986, the following have also been Field Division General Managers/Postmasters:

  •       Mary A. Brown, at San Francisco, California, from 1986 to September 1988 (also MSC Manager from 1985 to 1986), and at Wichita, Kansas, from September 1988 to November 1990;

  •       Janet Norfleet, at the South Suburban, Illinois, Division, from March 1986 to July 1987, and at Chicago, Illinois, from April 1987 to November 1990;

  •       Esther J. Richards, at the Southern Maryland Division from August 1987 to January 1991, and the South Suburban Division from January 1991 to the present;

  •       Linda F. Sanchez, at Brooklyn, New York, from March 1986 to October 1989, and the South Jersey Division from January 1991 to the present;

  •       Margaret L. Sellers, at San Diego, California, from 1986 to the present (also MSC Manager from 1979 to 1986); Ann C. Wright, at Charleston, West Virginia, from June 1990 to the present.

Other Interesting Distinctions

Women postmasters have achieved other notable and interesting distinctions, including some very lengthy years of service.

Miss Mary W. Stewart, over 63 years as Postmaster of Oxford, Maryland, appointed on March 9,  1877,  and serving until June 30, 1940;

  •       Lillian Bowles served continuously at Wonalancet, New Hampshire, for over 60 years.  She was   appointed Acting Postmaster on March 31, 1932; and Postmaster on August 18, 1932; and she retired on September 1, 1992;

  •       Mrs. Elizabeth Barnett, Acting Postmaster and Postmaster of Haywood, Oklahoma, for over 55 years, from May 23, 1935, until her retirement on August 31, 1990;

  •       Mrs. Ethyl Workman, over 50 years as Acting Postmaster and Postmaster of Muse, Oklahoma, from October 31, 1933, to January 3, 1984;

  •       Miss Mary L. Ballow, over 45 years as Postmaster of Dixon Spring(s), Tennessee, from February 1869 to July 1914;

  •       Mrs. Mary A. Meily, 43 years as Postmaster of Ono, Pennsylvania, appointed May 28, 1863, and serving until about June 1906;

  •       Miss Martha E. Stone, nearly 43 years as Postmaster of North Oxford Massachusetts, appointed on April 27, 1857, and serving until about January 1900.

A number of Catholic nuns or Sisters have also served the United States Postal Service as postmasters over the years.

For instance, the Saint Joseph’s, Sullivan County, New York, Post Office was headed by nuns from 1898 to 1981.  Mother M. Polycarpa Staigele was appointed first postmaster on April 11, 1898, serving until her retirement on January 31, 1940.  An article in the Postmasters’ Advocate of February 1940 states that “Mother Polycarpa was a young nun when she first came to the sanitarium on the hillside of St. Joseph’s, just outside Monticello.  One of her early associates in the upbuilding of the institution at St. Joseph’s was a young priest named Patrick Hayes, later to become famous as Cardinal . . .”  Mother Polycarpa was followed as postmaster by Sister M. Michelina Ostermayr and Sister Thomas T. Fink.  The post office eventually closed in August 1983.

The Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, Post Office has also been managed by nuns for a number of years since 1889.  Its first postmaster was the Reverend Mother Mary Odile, appointed on January 21, 1889.  

The Nazareth Post Offices in Michigan and Kentucky, often flooded with requests for their cancellations during the Christmas season, have also been managed by nun postmasters for a number of years during their history.

 

  • received: October 4, 1999

Back to the Top

~

Home    Colonel Andrew Balfour     News & Notes    The Descendants    About this Site     Family Stories    Photos        

Post Office Papers     Documents & Other Stuff     GEDCOM     Search     Message Board     E-mail to Us      Links