By: April Carson
In January 1913, one Ohio family used the US Postal Service's new parcel service to send their newborn son on a very unusual journey. The Beagues paid 15 cents for his postage and an unknown amount to insure him for $50, then handed him over to the mailman who delivered him about a mile away to his grandmother's home.
The trip was a success, and the baby arrived safe and sound. But it's not something that would be allowed today. The US Postal Service's official policy is that "the mailing of human beings is prohibited." This was likely in response to several incidents in which babies were injured or killed while being shipped by mail. In one case, a two-month-old baby was sent from Miami to New York City. The baby arrived alive but was covered in bruises, and the post office determined that the child had been roughly handled during transit.
When post offices began accepting shipments weighing more than four pounds on January 1, 1913, postal rules about what you could and couldn't send by mail were unclear. People immediately started experimenting with the boundaries by shipping eggs, bricks, snakes, and other uncommon "items." So was it legal to ship one's children in those days? There was no regulatory ban against it, technically.
“The first few years of parcel post service were a bit of a jumble,” says Nancy Pope, the National Postal Museum's head curator. “Depending on how their postmaster interpreted the regulations, different towns got away with various things.”
Pope has discovered seven instances of people mailing infants during the years 1913 to 1915, beginning with a baby in Ohio. It wasn't common to mail your kids, but it would have been less expensive to buy the stamps to send one by Railway Mail than to purchase her a seat on a passenger train for long distances.
People who mailed their children weren't handing them over to a complete stranger. Many rural families were familiar with their mailman. Those two viral pictures you may have seen on the internet of postal workers carrying babies in their mailbag, however, were staged photographs taken as a joke. A mailman could have carried a swaddled infant who couldn't walk, but he wouldn't have let a diaper-wearing baby sit in a crowd of people's correspondence.
In the case of May Pierstorff, whose parents sent her to her grandparent's home 73 miles away in February 1914, the railway mail conductor who rode with her on a Railway Mail train was a family member. The Idaho family spent $53 for the postage stamps they affixed to their daughter's coat, which was almost six years old.
However, after Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson learned about this situation - as well as another inquiry made that month regarding the delivery of children - he prohibited postal employees from accepting people as mail.
Despite the fact that the new law did not immediately prevent people from sending their children by post, it did have an effect. A woman mailed her six-year-old daughter from her home in Florida to her father's house in Virginia a year later. It was the longest postal journey of any of Pope's identified youngsters at 720 kilometers, and it cost 15 cents in postage.
Maud Smith, a three-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, made what appears to be the final trip of a kid by U.S. mail in August 1915, when her grandparents mailed her 40 miles to see her ill mother near Louisville. After the news spread, Superintendent John Clark of the Cincinnati division of the Railway Mail Service looked into it and inquired why the postmaster in Caney, Kentucky, had allowed a small girl on a train when that was specifically forbidden by rules.
“He didn't seem to have a job, but he had some explaining to do," Pope says.
Although Maud appears to be the last child successfully delivered, others would continue to try. According to the Los Angeles Times in June 1920, First Assistant Postmaster General John C. Koons rejected two request to send children, noting that they could not be characterized as "innocent live animals," according to the Washington Post.
And while it may seem like a stretch today, sending children through the mail was not without its benefits. Parents could save on travel expenses, and the children would receive a free ride to their destination. But as convenient as it may have seemed, there were also obvious dangers associated with the practice.
For instance, in 1918 a two-year-old girl named Virginia McPherson was sent by parcel post from her grandparents' house in Missouri to her parents in Oklahoma. The package containing the child was lost and never found.
While the Post Office did eventually put an end to the practice of sending children through the mail, it wasn't because of safety concerns. In fact, it was because the Post Office found that too many people were taking advantage of the service and sending their children through the mail when they could have just as easily taken them on the train.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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