With the U. S. Postal Service’s proposal to cut Saturday service in the news, I thought of all the members of my extended family who worked for the Post Office over the years. I also thought of how Post Offices in small towns across America have contributed to these communities. I grew up in one of these small towns and, with my family connections, I saw first hand the contributions it made.
Everyone in a small town visited the Post Office. It served businesses and individuals selling postage, shipping packages, providing Post Office boxes for mail delivery as well as general delivery services and rural delivery. In the days before email, people wrote letters and sent cards at Christmas, for birthdays or in sympathy. Businesses sent out bills and people paid them by mail, and often paid with Postal money orders. Legal documents that required signatures to confirm receipt went through the local Post Office. No express package carriers delivered the catalog orders or the special deliveries. The Post Office was the communications hub for the community.
And, often, the Post Office was a gathering place. Workers at the local Post Office knew everyone in the area, both names and addresses. They knew where people came from or where they have moved; they knew family connections, childrens names, and who worked where.
In our small town, as in those across the country, rural mail delivery made up an important part of the service provided by the Post Office. In years past, the rural mail carrier might have been the only connection to the outside world many country folks had. The carrier brought the mail and the news. He or she could be counted on to be there – every day.
Post Office Employees in My Family
In the late 1930’s my grandmother, Elvira Boone, was appointed Postmaster of our small town. Unlike many women of the time, she had attended Bethel College and she had worked for years as a bookkeeper in her brother-in-law’s drug store. So she had the qualifications. Her cousin, a U. S. Congressman, was credited with obtaining the appointment for her. Prominent members of the local community must have added their recommendations. No doubt her appointment wrankled some local men who undoubtedly thought a prominent, well-paid position such as Postmaster should not go to a woman. Yet her calm, business-like manner gained her the respect of the entire community. She managed the office and its employees, most of whom were men, with few complaints. Elvira was Postmaster until the was forced to retire in 1963 at age 70.
During her career as Postmaster she attended numerous Annual Postmaster’s Conventions across the country. My sister went with her to a convention in Washington, D. C. and my Uncle William accompanied her on several trips.
My grandmother was not the first postal employee in the family. According to a family story, my fraternal grandfather was a rural mail carrier for a time. He delivered the mail by horse and buggy. Once when he tried to ford a creek swollen from rain, his buggy turned over and he was washed down the creek. This incident upset my grandmother so much that he gave up the rural route.
Many more family members worked for the Post Office over the years. This picture was taken during my grandmother’s tenure as Postmaster, probably in the 1950’s. From left to right: Thomas Douglas – Clerk (my Father’s Cousin), Roland Roby – Rural Carrier (my Father’s Sister’s Husband – my Uncle), Guy Knight – Rural Carrier (my Father’s Brother- my Uncle), Ewing Rainwater – Clerk (my Mother’s Sister’s Husband – my Uncle), Dunc Dillon – rural Carrier (no relation), Pat McCarty – Rural Carrier (no relation), Bill Smith – Rural Carrier or Clerk (no relation), Elvira Boone (my maternal Grandmother).
In the late 1950’s my mother began her Postal career as a Substitute-Substitute Clerk. She worked when the full-time Clerk or the Substitute Clerk was sick or on vacation. At that time the local office employed only one full-time Clerk. When the mail volume was heavy, the Substitute Clerk worked longer hours, and additional hours were authorized for the Substitute-Substitute Clerk, especially before Christmas. The Rural Mail Carriers worked part-time, coming in early every morning to sort the mail for their route and delivering it in their own vehicles. The length of their workday depended on the volume of mail that day and the length of their route.
Up until the 1960’s, mail arrived via train each morning and afternoon. In the early years, my mother would work two hours in the morning to sort the incoming mail and distribute it to the rural carriers. Then she would go home and return for another two hours in the afternoon to again sort incoming and outgoing mail. Not many people wanted to be available to work when needed or to work these hours.
When the town grew, a second full-time clerk was authorized. My mother moved up to the Substitute Clerk position and her hours increased. By this time we children were old enough for her to be away from home more. Later, she was promoted to full-time Clerk. She retired in 1989 with a good pension. Within a few years this pension, along with one my father left her, paid for the cost of her care as an Alzheimber’s patient. I will always be grateful that she not only had the income during her active lifetime but also when she became ill.
The family connection to the Post Office extended far beyond our small, local community. One of my mother’s sisters, Wildred, worked in the Akron, Ohio, Post Office until her retirement. A letter from my mother’s aunt Eunice, dated 1942, mentioned that her daughter Lemoine worked at the Post Office in Sitka, Alaska.
So when I hear of the Postal Service is having financial diffuculties and that Postal employees are losing their jobs, I think of what those jobs meant to my family. Over the years the Postal Service has provided jobs not only for minorities and veterans, but for women who had little opportunity for steady, good-paying jobs with benefits. Even though we have other means of communication these days, the Postal Service provides vital services. I, for one, think we should support the Postal Service as an essential government function. It’s not really a money-making business like some want to make it. It is a vital part of our national infastructure.