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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 5, 1993

Non-Clerical Division

Non-Clerical Division

"22. Females will be admitted as cadets, but they will be appointed only to such vacancies as are suitable to females. They will belong to the Non-clerical Division only, but will be required to produce the certificates prescribed for cadets in the Clerical Division. The age for admission for females is between sixteen and twenty-five years, but women not above the age of forty years may be appointed to the Non-clerical Division if they have for a term of two years previously been continuously employed by the Department of Postmistresses or in any other capacity. Not more than three persons of the same family shall be employed in the Department at one time. Not more than one daughter in a family shall be eligible for appointment as a telephone-exchange cadette. Married page 32women are not eligible for appointment, and females must resign when they marry. The Governor, during the period of probation, may at any time dismiss any cadette from the Department for any reason which may be deemed sufficient." 1.

About 50 such extra-classified post offices throughout New Zealand were up-graded to "permanent" status or grade from 1 July 1908, and a little after that "extra" became "non-classified", to separate them more distinctly from the agency, or non-permanent post offices.

It is interesting to note that no such extra-classified offices had been created in Nelson. As post offices were moved from the country store or railway station into newly erected post and telegraph buildings, such as those at Richmond and Wakefield, the first permanent postmasters were men. When Upper Moutere was upgraded to permanent on 24 February 1911, Alice Robinson was the first permanent officer; the first woman to achieve this in Nelson.

In the other districts, the young women appointed extra-classified postmistresses seem to have come from varied origins. Some are known to have been widows of serving telegraphists, given the position both to assist them financially, and to use their existing skills at a cheaper rate than would be the case if fully-trained men, on a higher salary, were employed. Other young women were daughters of local settlers, and may have gained the post through political patronage. It was not until 1912 that service independence in appointment was officially achieved.

The two other major areas where women entered the workforce were through becoming a general storekeeper agency-postmistress, or by being a schoolmistress appointed to certain schools. There is no doubt that, at many of the several hundred store-post offices that had opened in New Zealand by the 1880s, the postal work was actually carried out by the wives or daughters, though the postmastership was in the male's name. But increasingly, from the 1880s, women working in this area were appointed to the post office.

Listed are those rural post offices where women had been appointed prior to 1910. Most of these are thought to have been at general stores, though Aorere was probably at the dairy factory at mat time, and two or three others were in farmhouses. In the lists of appointment, which are about the only surviving records, the titles "Mrs" or "Miss" were rarely shown. 2.

Aorere 1.8.1904 Florence A Fletcher 18.8.1910 Mary A King
Appleby 1.9.1869 Eliza Reidy (succeeded 9.3.1870)
1.9.1902 Sarah A Challis 1.8.1908 Hazel B Percival
Baton 1.8.1885 Harriett Parkes 7.10.1886 Emma Gibbs
12.6.1888 Kate Corrigan 1.9.1889 Ellen L Cresswell
1.9.1890 Ellen Quinton (succeeded 1.7.1895)
Bishopdale 1.12.1887 Ann R Gifford (office closed 26.3.1891)
Hope 10.11.1900 Christina Balck
Kea 26.5.1909 Charlotte E W Campbell
Kiwi 12.6.1907 Charlotte E W Campbell (then to Kea)
Motueka Wharf
1.8.1899 Miriam E Moffatt 15.2.1899 Louisa M Moffatt
Orinoco 1.11.1903 Helen C M Beatson
Pokororo 6.8.1895 Lydia M Bradley 1.7.1903 Eva C Heath
Puramahoi 1.4.1897 Jeannie Walker page 33
Redwood's Valley
25.7.1899 Lily I Cameron 15.12.1899 Betsy Schroder
Sherry River 1.2.1890 Eliza A Phillips 1.11.1892 Emily Street
1.1.1895 Jane Wray 1.6.1896 Alice E Fittall
Spring Grove
16.11.1880 Martha Walkden (succeeded 1.9.1885)
Thorpe 23.8.1888 Sarah M Rose 1.9.1906 Miss Winifred M Winn
Totaranui 1.12.1883 Mrs Betsy Gibbs (to 1.6.1892)
Upper Moutere
30.10.1886 Mrs Annie Cook
Upper Takaka
1.7.1906 Robina Harwood 15.9.1906 Henrietta O Heywood

Mind you, none of these women would have become rich from being appointed agency-postmaster. Though, undoubtedly, the quarterly-paid salary often gave them a sense of independence, the standard salary was only six pounds a year. Examples of storekeeper-postmaster daughters transferring to full-time "extra-classified" post-offices are known.

The other area where women were employed quite early in the postal service, was through their primary profession as school-teachers. At quite a few country schools, particularly in the South Island, the school was also made the local post office, and the teacher, the postmaster. This was quite logical, as children moving between school and home were able to distribute the mail. Often incoming teachers had no option but to also take over the post office, receiving the same six pounds a year modicum of additional salary.

The earliest schoolmistress appointment seems to have been that of Kathleen Barry, at Stoke, in 1888. As with storekeeper postmistress appointments, it is difficult to ascertain the main occupation of the women, prior to 1893, and assumptions have to be made. It is hoped that readers will tell us where we are wrong!

The following list is of early school-post office appointments in Nelson:

Ferntown 1.7.1890 Alice Murray 17.3.1899 Margaret B Hunter
17.7.1899 Elizabeth A McGavin
Lower Moutere
1.4.1905 Ada M Desaunais
Marahau 1.3.1890 Sarah A Cowles
Neudorf 1.2.1898 Amelia Beuke
Pakawau 1.4.1893 Blanche Riley 12.8.1899 Elizabeth A Winter
5.5.1902 Florence Field
Stoke 18.1.1888 Kathleen Barry 1.12.1903 Charlotte S E Naylor
1.6.1905 Sarah W W Low

Nearly always forgotten, rarely appointed or listed by their own name, nevertheless the work of women in the early post and telegraph service was an essential contribution to the development of the our country's communications. It has been a pleasure to identify and record their names.