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"Post Secrets,Young women face the dangers of the post office" by Angela Serratore

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. ...

A Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine report on women and children in America points out to its British readers that while the fair maidens of Europe must rely upon a town businessperson to mail and receive her letters, a girl in New York has a freer hand:

"[She] has the privilege, if she chooses to exercise it, of her own private box or pigeon-hole at the post-office of the town where she resides, where she can have her letters addressed, and whither by a “Ladies Entrance” she can resort when she pleases and unlock her box from the outside, and take away her letters without observation."

It’s the lack of observation that made the New York Post Office such a source of fear—private communication is one thing, but to carry it out in a public space, away from the watchful eyes of protector figures, leaves women and girls open to assaults on their chastity, both in print and in person.

I love everything about this, I really really do. I wonder what arguments we could make about this as a precursor to women's activity on the web--private writing and reading, safe spaces, etc.


( 2 comments — Add your .02 )
Mar. 10th, 2015 01:33 am (UTC)
If I had lived back then, I'm absolutely sure that I would have had my very own private post office box. ;)

Mar. 10th, 2015 05:34 pm (UTC)

To me the most mindblowing thing was that private writing was a 19th c. thing, which is something I sort of intellectually knew but didn't connect to a formalized postal system.
( 2 comments — Add your .02 )

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