Correspondence

With American entry into World War I in April 1917, the country's postal service underwent a number of changes. To accommodate the heavy costs of waging war, the price of a stamp for domestic mail was raised from 2¢ to 3¢, effective November 2, 1917, until July 1, 1919, when the stamps returned to their pre-war rate.  Likewise, the rate for postcards was raised from 1¢ to 2¢ during the same time period. World War I also saw the popular rise of picture postcards printed with white borders, thus enabling companies to save money by using less ink.

3 Women Mail CarriersChanges also came in the carrying of mail during the war, particularly in American cities.  Prior to World War I, women had served as mail carriers in some rural communities, but none served in cities.  However, with so many American men entering the armed forces during the war, the Post Office Department experimented with appointing women as mail carriers to replace the men.  The "experiment" began in December 1917 in eight cities with the largest post offices—by the war’s end, several other cities had also appointed women mail carriers.  Most of these women gave up their positions to returning veterans once the war was over.

The postal service also experimented with airmail during the Great War.  On May 15, 1918, the first airmail service between New York and Washington, D.C., began.  The U.S. Army Signal Corps lent its planes and pilots for the airmail service, recognizing the valuable flying experience that its pilots would gain.

World War I brought other changes to the distribution of mail in the United States.  Under the provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917, the Postmaster General could block the distribution of materials in the mail that he felt interfered with the military and/or supported U.S. enemies.  In October 1917 the Censorship Board, comprised of the Post Office Department, Departments of Navy and War, the War Trade Board, and the Committee on Public Information, was formed to regulate mail, cable, radio, telegraph, and telephone communications between the United States and foreign nations.  Under this board, the Postmaster General was responsible for the regulation and censorship of mail.  Items that passed censorship were stamped to indicate so.

Sailors' Mail Frank and Censor Mark

World War I also saw the beginnings of the U.S. Army Post Office (APO), which operated independently of the Post Office Department.  The establishment of the APO stemmed from the War Department’s reluctance to share the locations of military units with the Post Office Department, which understandably made the department’s job extremely difficult.  Additionally, Congress granted Americans serving in the armed forces the right to send personal correspondence free of charge.  These items were designated with postal franks—in this case, markings—such as "Nurse's mail," "Officer's mail," and "Soldier's mail."

The selected correspondence in this section comes from the National Postal Museum.  Many of these items are written to women from soldiers or vice versa.  Additionally, some of the items are connected to women's wartime voluntary organizations, such as the Jewish Welfare Board and the American Red Cross.

 

Further Resources

Hennen M. Sanford, The Mail of the A.E.F. American Expeditionary Forces (The American Philatelic Society: Maryland, 1940).

Kathryn Burke, "Letter Writing in America: World War I Letters," National Postal Museum.

"Postal History: Airmail," United States Postal Service (PDF).

"Postal History: Women Carriers," United States Postal Service (PDF).

Richard W. Sackett, "The Beginning of the American APO," The American Philatelist 932 (1978): 857-867.

Theo Van Dam, ed., The Postal History of the AEF, 1917-1923 (New York: The War Cover Club, 1990).

"Women in the Postal Service and Philately," National Postal Museum.

Image Sources:

"City Carriers, 1917," 1917, Western Newspaper Union photo, collection of the United States Postal Service, "Photo Gallery: People," United States Postal Service History, JPEG file, https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/images/people/1917womencarriers.jpg (accessed April 30, 2015).

"WWI sailor's mail free frank on Red Cross postal card," October 10, 1918, Arago: People, Postage & The Post, National Postal Museum.

Before World War I, service member's free mail was usually marked soldier/sailor's mail or officer's mail. This officer's mail cover was censored and mailed from France.
Description
Before World War I, service member's free mail was usually marked soldier/sailor's mail or officer's mail. This officer's mail cover was censored and mailed from France.
Date
March 5, 1918
Object number
2010.2001.7
This postcard is part of a wider trend of sending picture postcards during World War I. The image on the front shows a local French train station, though it was also common for cards to have a sentimental or propaganda theme.
Description
This postcard is part of a wider trend of sending picture postcards during World War I. The image on the front shows a local French train station, though it was also common for cards to have a sentimental or propaganda theme. Sent by a nurse serving in France it brings a fond message to a friend back in the United States. It mentions that they have been thinking of them, wills them to write soon and wishes them a happy holiday season.
Nurses serving abroad were included in the free postage initiative that was used throughout World War I for members of the armed forces. Effective as of October 4, 1917 waiving postage for first-class mail from soldiers, sailors and marines serving overseas was intended to make it easier for service members to conduct business and communicate with loved ones without having to hunt for stamps. Thus, it also reduced the need to supply stamps in field post offices.
During the Civil War and Spanish-American War, the words “soldier’s letter” written on an envelope allowed troops to send messages with no pre-payment; postage was to be collected upon delivery. Measures were taken a step further during World War I when Congress granted American forces serving abroad the right to send personal correspondence free of charge. In subsequent conflicts congressional acts allowed for the free mail frank for deployed military service personnel. Since 1986 the Secretary of Defense has the authority to determine free mail areas.
References
Sanford, Hennen M. The Mail of the A.E.F. American Expeditionary Forces. The American Philatelic Society, Maryland, 1940.
Date
1918
Object number
0.260305.12.80.1
This envelope was used by a serviceman during World War I to send a letter home without it being censored by his regiment.
Description
This envelope was used by a serviceman during World War I to send a letter home without it being censored by his regiment. The restrictions for its usage are printed on the cover, and the sender must declare that it does not contain any sensitive information regarding the military.
These covers were designed for letters that contained personal information that the writer did not want to be read by censors he may know personally. They did not escape censorship completely however, as they were censored at the main military base before they were forwarded to the USA. This is indicated by the censor’s mark, in red ink on the lower left of the envelope.
World War I saw the first large-scale effort to censor personal mail from American military service members. Enacted in attempts to protect strategic information, such as troop strength and location, the personnel and officers reviewing the mail were also able to gauge the outlook and morale of individuals. Similar regulations and methods were employed again during World War II.
References
Sackett, Richard W. “The Beginning of the American APO.” The American Philatelist 932 (1978): 857-867.
Sanford, Hennen M. The Mail of the A.E.F. American Expeditionary Forces. The American Philatelic Society, Maryland, 1940.
Date
c. 1918
Object number
0.260305.14.26.1
During World War I, American military personnel were transported to France by troop ships that had to travel through dangerous submarine infested waters.
Description
During World War I, American military personnel were transported to France by troop ships that had to travel through dangerous submarine infested waters. To alleviate the fears of those at home, the American Red Cross provided these simple post cards with the message that the ship has arrived safely.
Date
October 10, 1918
Object number
2010.2001.6
This postcard was sent home to America by a serviceman deployed to France during World War I. The preprinted message on this postcard provided by the Jewish Welfare League wishes the recipient Purim greetings, marking a Jewish holiday.
Description
This postcard was sent home to America by a serviceman deployed to France during World War I. The preprinted message on this postcard provided by the Jewish Welfare League wishes the recipient Purim greetings, marking a Jewish holiday. It also outlines that the sender is in France fighting for peace and shows an American and French flag tied together behind a Star of David.
During World War I pre-printed stationery was issued free of charge by the Jewish Welfare Board to serviceman stationed abroad. Other non-profit organizations did likewise, including the American Red Cross, the YMCA, the Knights of Columbus and the Salvation Army. The idea was to reassure families in the United States of the wellbeing of servicemen and to encourage the servicemen to communicate regularly with their families. The military supported this initiative as it was widely believed to increase morale. Like other military mail, messages written on this charitable stationery could be mailed free of charge and were subject to censorship.
References
Sanford, Hennen M. The Mail of the A.E.F. American Expeditionary Forces. The American Philatelic Society, Maryland, 1940.
Date
1919
Object number
0.214896.66
This postcard is part of a wider trend of sending picture postcards during World War I. The image on the front shows a local church, though it was also common for cards to have a sentimental or propaganda theme.
Description
This postcard is part of a wider trend of sending picture postcards during World War I. The image on the front shows a local church, though it was also common for cards to have a sentimental or propaganda theme. The short message shares reassurances and good wishes between two servicemen brothers.
From the change of address marked in red pencil it can be seen that this postcard was redirected to a field hospital (APO 930 was in Treves, Germany). Redirections such as this were controlled by the Central Records Office, who received reports from all fronts including military bases and field hospitals. Because it was sent by a serviceman it is franked for free postage. The numbered purple censorship stamp indicates that this postcard was censored by a specific organization, probably the serviceman’s unit, before it was mailed.
World War I saw the beginnings of the US Army Post Office, the first postal system in the world to be clearly distinguished from an established government postal system. It became a separate organization following tensions over the War Department’s reluctance to disclose to the Post Office Department the locations of military units, making their task near impossible. Although the branches established during World War I were disabled at the end of the war, a precedent was set for the managing of mail in all future conflicts.
References
Sackett, Richard W. “The Beginning of the American APO”. The American Philatelist 932 (1978): 857-867.
Sanford, Hennen M. The Mail of the A.E.F. American Expeditionary Forces. The American Philatelic Society, Maryland, 1940.
Van Dam, Theo, ed, The Postal History of the AEF, 1917-1923. New York, The War Cover Club, 1990.
Date
February 11, 1919
Object number
0.260305.15.74.1

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