When Putting Children In The Mail Was Legal

“The Post Office Department is like a great root spreading many feet under ground and nourishing the mighty oak. It is the tap root of civilization.” —Joseph Gurney Cannon

In A Nutshell

At the beginning of the 20th century, it was legal to mail children through the Post Office in the US. Even though the postmaster general tried to put an end to the practice with an official declaration, it continued until the mailing of a three-year-old (via parcel post) from her grandmother to her mother prompted an investigation. Suffragettes in England also tried to take advantage of English postal laws to mail themselves to the Prime Minister, but unfortunately for them, they were simply marked “Return to Sender.”

The Whole Bushel

It’s 1913, and little Jimmy and little Dolly want to go visit Grandma and Grandpa a few towns over. Mother and Father don’t have the time to drive them out there or pick them up later. So what’s a family to do?

Why not buy some stamps and just pop the kiddos in the mail?

The first family to think of transporting their children via the US Postal Service were the Beauges of Glen Este, Ohio. They mailed their son off to see his grandmother, which gets even stranger when you know that she only lived about a mile away from the family. It cost them 15 cents, which is the equivalent of about $3.50 in 2014. He made the trip in the company of a rural mail carrier, who was presumably careful not to damage him—he was insured for $50 ($1,165 in 2014).

The longest postal journey ever made was by six-year-old Edna Neff, who was mailed from her mother’s Pensacola, Florida, home to her father’s Christianburg, Virginia, home. According to Google Maps, that’s about a 1,175-kilometer (730 mi) journey. There’s surprisingly little information on the trip. That is, aside from the fact that the child’s weight of 23 kilograms (50 lb) meant that her mother was charged a mere 15 cents for her parcel post trip. (Makes you wonder why the mile-long journey of the little Beauge boy cost the same amount.)

There are a few other instances of children being sent through the mail, usually from one relative to another via parcel post. In 1914, Postmaster General Albert Sidney Burleson issued the very clear directive that postal workers in the states were not allowed to accept children as mail items.

Because some people think rules exist merely to be broken, the practice continued for at least another year. The last case of children traveling by post was that of three-year-old Maud Smith, who was mailed from her grandparents back to her parents. She traveled in the post section of a train, and the Railway Mail Service got an investigation started by alerting higher authorities to the fact that someone had allowed a three-year-old girl to be accepted as a parcel post package.

It wasn’t just in the United States that it was legal to mail people, either. It was a thing in England, too, and there was a certain part of the population that didn’t agree with the idea. The suffragettes of the early 20th century saw the postal system as a far-reaching hand of the ever-present and very male-dominated government.

Getting the ear of the prime minister was high on their list of things to do, so suffragettes Daisy Solomon and Elspeth McClellan decided to take advantage of the system and mail themselves to the prime minister in an attempt to present their thoughts in person. In February 23, 1909, they were delivered to 10 Downing Street by a telegraph messenger.

Their plan was, unfortunately, quickly foiled. When they were received at the door, the official that met them simply refused to sign for the delivery, and the women were returned to the sender—in this case, they were escorted back to the office of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Show Me The Proof

National Postal Museum Blog: Very Special Deliveries
Texas State Historical Association: Burleson, Albert Sidney
British Postal Museum & Archive: Fe:MAIL, Suffragettes and the Post and Human Letters: The Post Office and women’s suffrage
(Inflation calculated here.)