Meet Mary Fields, the First Black Woman to be Employed by the US Postal Service and a True Badass

by Rosa Schwartzburg


Meet Mary Fields — also known as “Stagecoach Mary” and “Black Mary” — the second woman, and first ever black woman, to work for the US Post Office. Mary was a “star route” mail carrier; these routes were notoriously difficult and long. “Stagecoach Mary” came from the fact that she was as reliable as a stagecoach, even though she faced harsh and hazardous conditions along her route. Rain, shine, wind, or snow — she always managed to make her delivery.

Mary Fields was born a slave in in Hickman County, Tennessee around the year 1832 (the precise date of her birth is unknown). When slavery was abolished in 1865, Mary went to work for a judge’s family, and then for she came to work at a convent called “St. Peter’s”. There she did farm work, raised chickens, and did repairs to the building — eventually becoming the convent’s forewoman. Though she was a hard and dedicated worker, racism affected the white community’s perspective of her. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a Republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.” The convent’s bishop ordered her to leave after an incident involving a male subordinate and Mary came to a head.

Fields then opened a restaurant that (perhaps in part due to the fact that she would serve anyone, regardless of ability to pay), failed after ten months. Then, in 1895, at the age of 60, Fields won the contract for the star route from Cascade, Montana to Saint Peter’s Mission. She was the applicant who could hitch a team of six horses the quickest and became the second woman and first African American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service. Mary, her horses, and her trusted mule Moses drove the route every day. If the weather conditions ever forbade the use of the horse team, she went on her route on foot, carrying the mail herself.

Eleven years later, at the age of approximately 71, Mary retired from her route (although she continued to work as a babysitter and operated an at-home laundry service). Fields became a figure of renown in Cascade and after her death in 1914, her birthday became a day of celebration.
Mary Fields’ legacy as an intrepid woman of color lives on to this day. Her story has been immortalized in film, literature, music, and television. She was a pioneer of black rights, of the rights of women, and the capability to triumph over tremendous adversity. We salute you, Mary.


Image source: Wikipedia

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