delivering the mail on Saturdays, I thought a post-office post was in order.
Over at the blog of Lapham's Quarterly, Angela Serratore has a fascinating post on the way the antebellum New York City post office (located in the Middle Dutch Church at the intersection of Nassau and Liberty Streets) provided a place for women to send and receive personal letters without being monitored by male authority figures. Here is a taste:
Communication of and by women has always struck fear into the hearts of men (see: novels; epistolary),
but until the middle of the nineteenth century it was largely
manageable—husbands and fathers, even servants, monitored a lady’s
letters, and the wild fluctuations in cost of mail kept all but the
wealthiest of girls and women from taking pen to paper on a regular
basis. That changed with the standardization of postal prices in 1845.
The cost of mailing a letter was reduced to three cents, making the mail
accessible to working women, middle-class housewives, and schoolgirls
with pocket money. Suddenly, wide swaths of women had access to two
dangerous things—the mail and the post office. Anthony Trollope’s 1852
invention of the pillar-box had given British girls a chance to subvert
the authority of their scandalized parents by mailing letters in secret,
but their New York counterparts who visited the post office could both
send and receive mail almost entirely unmonitored by those who might want to regulate their epistolary lives.
Located in the Middle Dutch Church at the intersection of Nassau and Liberty Streets (below),
New York City’s original post office branch had previously played host
to a Revolutionary-era prisoner-of-war camp as well as multiple
religious congregations. It was, upon becoming a post office in 1845, an
immediate disaster. Newspapers complained of its locational
inconvenience, its rude staff, and its general wildness. What place was
this for a lady?