Princeton’s First Female Mail Carrier
Seven months after the United States entered World War I, in November, 1917, one particular military family in Princeton was waging their own battle – with the U.S. Civil Service Commission.
Princeton mailman Harry Strand, and his younger brother, Hilding, enlisted to serve their country overseas. Hilding, 18, enlisted first in July, and was followed by Harry in September. Harry was granted an unpaid leave of absence from the post office.
Their grown sister, Edith, remained at home to care for their disabled father, and in the absence of her brothers she became the only wage earner in the family.
Just a few months prior, in June, Edith had accepted a position at Uthoff’s Bakery in Princeton.
Previous to Harry Strand’s enlistment, he discussed matters with Princeton Postmaster R.L. Russell, and stated that he wanted to enlist, but could not do so unless his sister, Edith, was appointed as substitute on his route. Edith was initially approved to the position in early September, and her brother, upon being honorably discharged from the army, would be allowed to return to his duties as rural carrier when the war ended.
She delivered mail on Route 6 from September to November, 1917 with distinction, until November 6, when the Princeton Post Office was informed in a letter from J.S. Blaksley, Fourth Assistant Postmaster General, concerning the Civil Service Commission’s ruling to remove Edith, and appoint in her place one of three men on a list certified as eligible to serve as a rural carrier.
Women were not eligible to take the Civil Service examination for rural carrier at this time. Despite this, the Bureau County Tribune reported on November 6, that “(Edith’s) service has been highly satisfactory to the patrons of Route 6 and the order to dismiss her has caused the protest of 234 of these patrons who eagerly signed the petition requesting the Civil Service Commission to retain Miss Strand.”
Multiple organizations, including the Red Cross and others, rallied to Edith’s case, sending letters to the Civil Service Commission, post office department officials, and even President Wilson, to have her reinstated. Senator J. Hamilton Lewis also stepped in and assured his constituents that the case had his personal attention. All to no avail.
The Tribune wrote, “The opinion seems to be general that Miss Strand should be retained and it is only right that the government, which has taken her two brothers for army service, should give her employment and allow her to continue in the work which she has done with credit to herself and the government.”
The Tribune wrote, on November 30, 1917, that “it remained, however, for an organization of women to snap the legal red tape to have Miss Strand’s position restored in short order.”
In fact, Grace Clark Norris, President of the Princeton Women’s Club, had the idea to send a letter and their petition to First Lady Edith Wilson, and it didn’t take long to receive a response from the White House.
The Tribune writes, “For three or four weeks past a battle royal [sic] has been going on between the ladies of Princeton and the U.S. Civil Service board at Washington over the case of Miss Edith Strand who has been in and out of the postal service two or three times, and the ladies have won over the rules, precedents and orders of the civil service because they had the sympathies and humanities on their side; and especially because they enlisted the sympathy and the assistance of a certain lady in the White House at Washington.”
A telegram arrived at the Princeton Post Office November 26, informing Postmaster Russell of the decision that came straight from President Wilson. The telegram was followed two days later by a letter from Wilson with an executive order, formally and permanently reinstating Edith to her job.
The Tribune imagines how the situation came to a head in the White House, writing, “Well, women know a lot of things that men never think of, and in this case they took a woman’s way of reaching the president. They sent to Mrs. Wilson a full history of Miss Strand’s case and appealed to her for her aid and assistance. The case seems to have won that lady’s sympathy at once and she planned to assist them as only a woman knows how. (Mrs. Wilson) didn’t have to beg Secretary Tumulty for an interview with the president; she didn’t have to make an appointment on a certain day and a certain hour or minute; she didn’t have to march into the presence with a flunky in uniform, meanwhile being told to make it brief and to the point. No, she didn’t have to do any of these things and we imagine it was done some way like this: She just waited until the president hurried in to get a bite, when she went up to him with a smile, placed an arm around his neck and a hand under his chin, and in a soft voice related the story of the little Princeton girl, of her heroic sacrifice and of her willingness to brave the rigors of winter, to do her bit for her country, (for) her father and her brothers in the service. The story told by anyone would have won the heart of the president, but with Mrs. Wilson’s pleading it was irresistible. Miss Strand will deliver mail on Route 6.”
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end happily for the Strand family. Corporal Harry Strand, signal corps, died of bronchial pneumonia June 15, 1918, and was buried in France, until his remains were exhumed and reburied in Princeton in 1922.
Hilding Strand survived the war, serving overseas from July 26, 1917 to August 19, 1919. He is honorably discharged with the rank of Q.M. Sergeant, Sr. Gr. (Quartermaster Sergeant, Senior Grade). He returned to Princeton and was hired in the fall of 1919 to work in the bookkeeping and accounting department at Citizens First National Bank. Eventually, he relocates to the west coast, but returns home for his brother Harry’s stateside funeral in 1922.
Edith Strand is Princeton’s first female mail carrier and quite possibly the first in Bureau County.