Postal Facts and Tidbits

By: 
SARAH BRACHA
PTF Clerk

 

More about Ladies’ Delivery Windows :

According to historian Richard John, women visiting urban post offices entered into an environment that was a “bastion of white male solidarity and an adjunct to the racially and sexually stratified world of politics and commerce.” 

The post office building designs of Ammi Burnham Young, the first supervising architect of the Treasury Department, called for separate men’s and women’s windows and sometimes gender-segregated waiting areas and entrances. There were about 17 post offices nationwide with building plans including Ladies’ Delivery Windows, designed by Young.

Anthony Trollope, the popular novelist and British postal official, disapproved of the degree to which the sexes were segregated in the U.S. In 1863, he wrote, “I confess that in the States I have sometimes been driven to think that chivalry has been carried too far. … There are ladies’ doors at hotels and ladies’ drawing rooms, ladies’ sides on the ferry boats, ladies’ windows at the post office for the delivery of letters.” Trollope felt ladies’ delivery windows, in particular, were “an atrocious institution, as anybody may learn who will look at the advertisements called personal in some of the New York papers. Why should not young ladies have their letters sent to their houses, instead of getting them at a private window? The post-office clerks can tell stories about those ladies’ windows.”

Newspaper writers condemned the ladies’ delivery window for allowing women to carry on courtships away from the scrutiny of their parents; a New Orleans journalist stated it “affords opportunities for modern Juliets to carry on clandestine correspondence.” A newspaper account reprinted across the country claimed a New York postmaster decried the windows as “that satanic ladies window” upset that he could withhold letters from minors but “all the women who are of age can keep on misusing the government’s service and there is no lawful way to stop them.”

In 1887, Rose Elizabeth Cleveland was said to have written to her brother, President Grover Cleveland, and to Postmaster General William Vilas, complaining that ladies’ delivery windows had become “an agency of demoralization,” claiming they were used to circumvent parental authority and encourage improper relationships.

In San Francisco there was a more positive feel. An article in “Hutching California Magazine,” 1858 observed the polite conventions of society were being maintained at the San Francisco Post Office. In 1869 the post office in San Francisco was again commended for providing a ladies’ delivery window where “women are shielded and will be protected.”

In some post offices the ladies’ window was staffed by female postal clerks. The press again deemed this as “a good move and will meet with the hearty approbation of our citizens.” In 1865 in Chicago the ladies’ window was staffed by women to “stop the flirting with the clerks.” It was not stated if this was to increase employee productivity or safeguard female propriety.

As free delivery was introduced in cities, the delivery of letters at gender segregated post office windows gradually ended. Residents of cities were directed to have mail addressed to either a post office box or to their residence if they received free delivery. In November of 1879 the Sacramento Daily Union reported “the delivery of ladies’ letters at a separate window was discontinued, and hereafter ladies must apply at general delivery for their letters, or have them addressed to their address.

Eventually will-call mail windows were only for “general delivery” addresses, and those addresses were to serve the transients and travelers with no fixed address. By 1887, postal regulations had changed and Ladies’ Delivery Windows were no longer in service. 

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