The following article was written in 1983 by Karen Hursey, then a junior at Granite City High School. Full citation below.
Since the days of Benjamin Franklin the post office has been one of our most important means of communication. Women are becoming more and more prominent in this system, and today it is not at all unusual to find a woman delivering mail. However, in the early 1900’s it was not at all common for a woman to be a mail carrier. In fact, there were very few women in the entire United States who were rural mail carriers at that time. One of them was Miss Mattie [Martha Maud] Marshall who delivered mail for the post office in Granite City.
Born in 1883, she was raised by an uncle who, besides being a schoolteacher, was a rural mail carrier in his spare time. As a result Mattie developed an interest in the postal service.
Post office jobs were political, and it depended largely on who you knew in the area of politics when you wanted a postal job. Mattie, the great-granddaughter of Colonel Samuel Judy who was one of the first settlers in Madison County, already had a foot in the door with that connection.
In addition to political influence, it was required that a test be taken before one could be appointed to the position of mail carrier. Mattie scored 95.5 out of a possible 100 points, and was appointed in June of 1904.
Her delivery route was twenty-one miles a day, and she delivered four to five thousand pieces of mail a month. By the end of the year, her salary reached the grand total of $720.
In those days delivering mail by horse and buggy could be dangerous for a young woman of just twenty-one years of age. Mattie carried a gun with her at all times for protection. However, she proved herself to be just as competent and capable as a man.
During her term as mail carrier, Mattie had several exciting experiences. One in particular happened two miles east of Granite City. While delivering mail, she was stopped by two men who attempted to rob her. One grabbed the horse’s head while the other tried to climb aboard the buggy. It did not take Mattie long to react. She fired her weapon at the man who holding the horse, causing him to let go. This allowed her to escape, unharmed and without losing a single piece of mail.
On another occasion, the horse was frightened by a passing streetcar, and Mattie was thrown from the buggy. She quickly got up and chased the runaway horse, finally catching up to it after a mile. Also, during the mid-winter blizzard, she lived up to the motto that the mail must go through regardless of weather conditions. She finished her route, arriving in Granite City seven hours late.
In September of 1910, Mattie eloped with her boss, Roy L. Sperry, who was superintendent of the Granite City post office. This resulted in her resignation because the post office rules would not allow a woman to be married and hold the job of letter carrier.
Mattie proved not only to herself but to everyone else that a woman could be anything she set her mind to, and this idea continues to grow today. The postal service played a vital part int he early development of equal rights for women. Mattie’s contribution was not only beneficial to all women, but helped develop a trend in the postal service that would grow into what it is now.─[From St. Louis Globe Democrat, Sept. 20, 1910, Granite City Press-Record, 1906, from clipping file of Linda Koenig; interviews with Linda Koenig, granddaughter of Mattie Marshall, and Georgia Engelke, author of Old-Six-Mile, both of Granite City.]
Hursey, Karen. “Mattie Marshall, Rural Mail Carrier.” Illinois History: Communications in Illinois 37.3 (Dec. 1983): 57-58.