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Muncy’s first female postmaster served her community well

By Staff | Mar 11, 2015

PHOTO PROVIDED Emma Ritter Shumaker was born March 17, 1860 and served as Muncy's first female postmaster in the late 1800s. "No post master ever had a more faithful or efficient clerk...and won the esteem of all patrons of the Muncy post office."

MUNCY – Emma Ritter Shumaker of Muncy is a woman to be recognized in history, for she was the first female to serve as postmaster in Muncy’s Post Office.

While appointed to a rural post office such as Muncy, women learned the workings of the government while staying involved with their communities. So we would assume that Emma Shumaker was well known while she served during President Grover Cleveland’s administration. It is stated on the front cover of the local “Now and Then” in December of 2009 that Emma received her postal announcement on March 31, 1894 and began her duties on April 1.

It was common back then to employ women as “postmasters” and the position itself dates back to the mid 1700s.

Mary Katherine Goddard, also a printer, was the only female in office in 1775 in the United States. Sarah Decrow was recorded as the first woman postmaster in 1792. Women struggled with low pay, and duties revolved around non traditional chores to keep the postal service going. In colonial times the post office shared space with general stores and printing houses.

In the 1800s often a woman would acquire a postmaster position after her husband was deceased and the appointment would automatically be appointed to her. After the Civil War many opportunities opened up for women at the post office. Women were hired to fill in for the men. In 1865 there were more female clerks than men earning an average of $600 per year. In 1895 the suffragist movement allowed women to carry mail.

PHOTO PROVIDED Emma Ritter Shumaker (far left) became Muncy's first female postmaster and began her duties April 1, 1894. She is standing in front of Muncy's original Post Office in the old Masonic Building on S. Main Street.

Bill Ritter of Muncy and a direct descendant said he wished he could collect more information on Emma Ritter Shumaker, his great, great Aunt. “As a boy, I really wasn’t interested in these things, but now I wish I had more of Aunt Emma.” He found some inscriptions from Emma’s sister’s memoirs of growing up in Muncy. Emma was the oldest of ten siblings and her youngest sister, Mary Ritter Dewald passed away December 7, 1981. Now and Then reports that Mary was the oldest native born Muncian at the time of her death. Emma who was born March 3, 1860, and Mary born November 22, 1884 were the children of Charles and Lucetta Ritter. Charles was a cabinet maker by trade.

The Luminary “Peeks” revealed that during her last two years as Postmaster, Emma Ritter had been the general delivery clerk at the Muncy Post Office. Mr. William L. Potts said, “No postmaster ever had a more faithful or efficient clerk, and when she left the office for the last time, at the end of her term, she had the satisfaction of knowing that she had won the esteem of all patrons of the Muncy Post Office.” Emma served at the original post office which was located in the old Masonic building at 22-30 South Main Street until 1937. The first post office in Muncy was dedicated in 1799. Henry Shoemaker was the very first postmaster who started in April, 1800 followed by William Michael in December of 1844 who served until 1857.

According to the Postal Musuem of History, by 1897 women served in over 165 positions in the Washington, D.C. headquarters building. Reservations continued about women in the field. Postmaster General Heath pronounced, “Rural free delivery should not start from an office over which a female postmaster presides. There is always laxity in supervision and disinclination to report delinquencies.” Despite slowly broadening opportunities in the Post Office Department, women were still subjected to strong disapproval and discrimination within the system.

In 1902, The New York Times reported that “many civil service employers (including the Post Office) requested only names from the male register. Even though more women took and passed the exam, this system kept many women from being hired.” An official reported, “Every time a woman is appointed to a clerkship in one of the departments she lessens the chances of marriage for herself and deprives some worthy man of the chance to take unto himself and raise a family. And in addition to that, the men make far better clerks. They complain less, do more work, and work overtime if need be without grumbling.” (Source: Smithsonian National Postal Museum.)

Reportedly, women who delivered mail in the rural routes during the 1900s would often pass through swollen creeks, narrow paths, dirt roads, “roaring saloons” and severe weather while wearing long skirts and carrying a gun. None of these were part of the standard rural free delivery uniform. Later in the century rural mailboxes were added along the streets.

PHOTO BY BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Bill Ritter from Muncy framed a photo of his great great aunt, Emma Ritter Shumaker, who was Muncy's first female postmaster, and donated it to the Muncy Post Office.

A life long resident of Muncy, Emma Ritter Shumaker, lived until September 5, 1946. She was a member of the Muncy Lutheran Church and she is buried in the Muncy Cemetery. She was married to John S. Shumaker of Clarkstown who passed away in 1854 and she had a daughter, Lena Shumaker.

Today more women than men head United States Post Offices according to the National Postal Museum.