April 19, 1920: Duluth woman becomes first female letter carrier in Minnesota

On this day in Duluth in 1920, Mary L. Sarff was appointed as Duluth’s—and indeed Minnesota’s—first female letter carrier. Sarff, who lived at 907 Fourth Avenue east with her husband and two children, had been working as a substitute mail carrier for over a year (World War I created a shortage of working men), working all 27 miles of “route No. 1 on the Pike Lake Road.” Her new job came with an annual salary of $1,800 a year, just shy of $21,000 in today’s dollars. Of her job, Sarff said, “I like the work fine. Even in muddy weather, when it is sometimes doubtful whether a ‘flivver’ is going to remain in the road or take to the ditch, I enjoy the job just the same.” (“Flivver” was slang at the time for any old, small automobile that “gives a rough ride.”) During the winter, Sarff used a horse and buggy to deliver the mail. Duluth’s acting postmaster, Colonel William F. Henry, warned that this was not the start of a trend. “Mrs. Sarff is probably the last woman who will be appointed in this district. Since the war [ended] the shortage of men has not been felt so keenly and a great number of ex-soldiers, who must receive first consideration, have taken the examinations for positions in the department.” Not that Henry had anything against women: “Our experience with women who have entered the department during the war period has demonstrated that they can be fully as efficient as the men.”