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ment employees in 1912 and after.

Postal employees cannot ask for a raise from the superin-
tendent or postmaster; they cannot form a union which
threatens to strike; their salaries are set by law. They will



receive pay commensurate with the cost of living, and other
needed benefits, only when the public is enough aroused to
demand such through its representatives in Congress.

Before 1900, clerks, and officials as well, were very poorly
paid. Many of these officials were naturally unfair in making
appointments and promotions (with an eye to political ap-
proval), were bitterly opposed to imionism, obtained privi-
leges or railroad passes through political influence, and lived
only for a chance to quit and grab a better job— preferably as
a supervisor of mails for a railroad. (Some officials, of course,
were of high character and entirely different.) Many clerks
were removed from the Service merely because of politics
or grudges— a white envelope meant one was fired.

But clerks evidenced even more dissatisfaction with regard
to the dangerous, poorly constructed and serviced postal cars
in which they worked; clerks were being killed and injured
in wTecks everywhere. Railroad Avork has always been dan-
gerous, but working in the postal cars of that day was almost
like working in a powder mill. Before the advent of double
tracks, automatic block systems, heavy rail and ballast, the
air brake, the automatic coupler, and legal control of rail-
roadmen's working hours, wrecks occurred with dreadful
frequency. The postal clerk was in the greatest danger; his
car was generally the weakest in the train (often an old, re-
modeled baggage car), was spotted at the head end, and hence
received the brunt of any impact or followed the engine in
case of derailment.

Determined at least to provide a little financial security for
the maimed clerks and bereaved families involved, a group of
the employees met in Chicago on November 18, 1874, and
organized the Railway Mail Mutual Benefit Association, the
first national organization ever formed among railway postal
clerks— the first in the Postal Service, it is claimed. A. B.
Hulse was made president. The association was to provide
straight life insurance at low rates, since old-line companies
would not consider such risky fields of occupation; each mem-
ber was assessed $1.10 upon the death of any other member,
and $2,000 was paid to the latter's beneficiary. Lodges were


formed throughout the country. The "M.B.A." has con-
tinued to function throughout the years. Its newsy little
magazine, the M.B.A. Reminder, was founded in October
1921, and in 1942 the present national secretary— Benjamin
F. Carle, former 10th Division Assistant General Superintend-
ent—took over the reins. A recent sharp increase in rates
induced a drop in membership from a high of 13,285 to but
7,459 in 1947; but the association is again expanding and it
still sends out $2,000 checks to beneficiaries from its Chicago
headquarters. Active lodges are found at Boston, Cincinnati,
Atlanta, Omaha, and elsewhere.

But the M.B.A. of 1874 also endeavored to secure legisla-
tion for better wage and working conditions, and it began
this -^vork years before the post-office clerks' and carriers'
national groups were even founded. Considerable publicity
was given to the hazardous nature of the work, and by 1879
legislation -was enacted by Congress to provide ninety days'
full salary during incapacitation because of injuries on duty.

And there was plenty of need for such legislation. The
report of the Postmaster General for 1883 contained eleven
printed pages of wrecks, and the 1884 report, fourteen pages.
They were crammed with phrases like "Mail car was com-
pletely destroyed"; ". . . was fatally injured and died the
next morning"; ". . . was precipitated . . . and badly injured,
and died on December 2"; ". . . neck was broken, killing
instantly"; ". . . was caught in wreck and burned to death";
". . . so badly crushed as to be unrecognizable," and so on.
From 1877 to 1884 25 clerks were killed and 147 seriously
injured out of only 3,153 employed; in 1885-92 the figures
jumped to 43 and 463.

In 1883, furthermore. Congress arbitrarily reduced the pay
of clerks in the two top classes by $50 to $100, making it only
$1,150 and $1,300 per annum. This blow, coupled with un-
fair political discriminations, led to the hasty organization
of a "Brotherhood of Railway Mail Postal Clerks," in 1886,
to protect the interests of clerks involved; but it was admit-
tedly a Republican partisan group. It originated in the old
5th Division and was denounced by General Superintendent


Jamison and fellow o^cials (apparently including Captain
White, who reports the incident) as "an association . . .
inimical to private and public interests, because its purpose
was intimidation and retaliation."

That started the fireworks. The Department itself retali-
ated, with eighty immediate dimissals. The B.R.M.P.C. was
completely crushed, and the M.B.A. took care not to emulate
its tactics. Next year (1887) the injury-on-duty salary benefit
was extended to a one-year maximum— a benefit claimed as
an M.B.A. credit.

By 1888 the first railway mail journal had appeared— the
R.M.S. Bugle, published by Abraham E. Winrott at Chicago.
The next year Representative Hopkins introduced a bill to
increase postal clerks' salaries, supported by both the M.B.A.
and General Superintendent J. L. Bell. Bell organized his
own lobby of railway mail clerks to come to Washington and
plead for the increase; provided with free transportation,
they were ordered to team up and visit congressmen. Enough
votes were mustered, but filibusters killed the bill; and the
delegates returned, anxious for an independent group.

From this beginning, in part, sprang the great National
Postal Transport Association of today. After a three-year
discussion in the Bugle— 2iT\<\ by correspondence between the
editor, James Elliott, of Minneapolis, and Harry First, of
Cincinnati— the journal published a call for representatives
of all eleven divisions to convene in Cincinnati in 1891. On
July fifteenth, nineteen clerks met in the post-office read-
ing room there, with First acting as chairman; and on July
17, 1891, they formally organized the National Association
of Railway Postal Clerks, now the N.P.T.A. The first actual
convention was held in Detroit in August; M. C. Hadley, of
Waltham, Massachusetts, was elected president, and M. H.
Brown, of Atlanta, secretary.

Its constitution provided that the N.A.R.P.C. was to be a
fraternal beneficiary association providing for closer social
relations, perfection of any movements of benefit to the clerks
or the Service, and planning benefits to its membership in
case of accidental death or disability. With the exception of


added labor-union functions, these provisions still hold true.
Local branches, and later divisional associations, soon sprang
up. The headquarters was considered to be at Hadley's home.

In 1898 an efficient Beneficiary Department was founded
at Omaha, offering insurance to the extent of $4,000 for
accidental death and $18 weekly for disability. Organized
by D. E. Barnes, of Wichita; August Bindeman, of Elyria,
Ohio; N. L. Harrison, of Hornell, New York; and several
others, it issued certificates numbered largely to correspond
with division numbers to the charter members. It selected
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for its Home Office and George
A. Wood as secretary. William H. "Bill" Fry was appointed
an enthusiastic National Organizer to solicit memberships,
riding everywhere on his car permit; he also was the first to
suggest the Women's Auxiliary. "Bill Fry" still adorns the
N.P.T.A. membership card, but a town in Minnesota named
after him ended up as "Bull Frog."

The N. A. R. P. C. soon received special favors. Its ac-
tivities were announced in the General Orders, and free leaves
and transportation to National Conventions were given by
the government. The R.M.S. Bugle became the official
journal, but in September 1896 it was reorganized, with an
eye to independent control, as the Railway Mail, edited by
Elliott at St. Paul, Minnesota. In August 1899 he relin-
quished it to outside control (it continued until 1918) and
organized the Railway Post Office, now the Postal Transport
Journal, as the N.A.R.P.C.'s official organ from then on.
He was later succeeded as editor by Secretary George A.
Wood, holding both offices concurrently.

Meanwhile the wreck situation became intolerable. On
the old Switz City & Effingham^ (IllRcIndS) alone there were
thirty-eight wrecks within three years. There were 5,000 acci-
dents during the 1890s; 14 deaths in 1897 and 75 for the
period, despite new, stronger mail-car specifications drawn up
by Captain White. By 1899, 4,500 of the 8,388 clerks were

'Famed in early lore as "The Pumpkin Vine" or "The Abe Martin.

142 MAIL BY R.\II.

About 1900, through the efforts of the N.A.R.P.C. and
Honorable J. A. Tawney, the clerks' first effective pleader in
Congress, the previous maximum salaries were restored— fol-
lowing an impassioned speech in which Ta^vney appealed for
"Equality and Justice" and pointed out that R.P.C.s were
subject to more continuous labor, stricter rules and discipline,
and less of home and family comforts than any other govern-
ment employees. (He described the travel allowances received
by foreign railway mail clerks even then.)

But discipline became even more severe, and in 1902
(a year of 9 wreck-deaths and 390 injuries) came the crown-
ing bloAv. President Theodore Roosevelt issued a startling
proclamation. Civil Service Order No. 12, better known as
the infamous Gag Rule. Issued in November, it read:

All officers and employees of the United States . . .
are hereby forbidden either directly or indirectly, indi-
vidually or through associations, to solicit an increase
in pay or influence in their own interest any other legis-
lation whatever, either before Congress or in its commit-
tees, or in any way, save through the department . . .
in or under which they serve, under penalty of dismissal
from the Government service.

Three years later, when Roosevelt tried to fire a govern-
ment printer who had disputed (on his bicycle) the Presi-
dent's right of Avay, he found that legislative safeguards pre-
vented it; therefore he issued a folloAv-up W^hite House order
authorizing the instant dismissal, without reasons or appeal,
of any government employee.

From then on these two closely related Executive Orders
were rigidly enforced by postal officials. Barred effective
protests, employees' conditions became intolerable. Soon
N.A.R.P.C. President J. A. Kidwell, departing from the
Association's usual conciliatory tactics, made a speech at Chi-
cago criticizing conditions, and was fired from the R.M.S.
Wreck fatalities doubled in 1903; strong car specifications
were drafted in 1904, but older cars still became more and
more dangerous. Unclean water and filthy toilets were daily
complaints, despite honest efforts by General Superintendent


White, the N.A.R.P.C., and others to improve conditions.

In 1904 the N.A.R.P.C. became the "Railway Mail Asso-
ciation," and kept that name for 45 years. In 1907 a $100-a-
year salary increase, credited to R.M.A. efforts, was secured,
but in that year, also, White was succeeded by Alexander
Grant as General Superintendent, with a marked change of
policy for the worse. A stricter merit-and-demerit system,
with "teeth," was first adopted; and its "plus and minus
points" filled hearts with fear. A clerks' petition to Congress
via approved departmental channels, demanding I.C.C. safety
rules, was returned unapproved as "unhappily worded."

By now 210 clerks had been killed since 1875 and there
had been 9,400 R.P.O. wrecks; there were only twenty-six
steel R.P.O. cars anywhere. Worse yet, in 1908 Taft was
elected President and revamped the Gag Rule in emphatic
terms (instead of rescinding it, as expected), and appointed
Amos Hitchcock, a strict and economy-crazed politician, as
the successor to Postmaster General Meyer. At the same time
the first movement for retirement annuities had been begun
in the 10th (Wisconsin-Minnesota-Dakota) Division, with
R.M.A. groups banqueting officials; but rugged individualists
among the clerks squelched it. However, legislation was
passed granting SI, 000 death benefits for clerks killed on
duty— claimed by the R.M.A. as its accomplishment.

In 1909, however, the seething cauldron of resentment
boiled over. Urban A. Walter, a clerk on the N.Y. & Chic.
(NYCent), had just transferred to the Albuq. & Los Angeles
(Santa Fe) for his health and was living in Phoenix, Arizona,
on sick leave Avithout pay. Appalled at service conditions and
determined to quit anyhow, he launched in June "the most
remarkable publication since the time of William Lloyd
Garrison" (who -was quoted freely therein)— the Harpoon, a
vivid, red-and-yellow-bound, 6x8 inch, 32-page magazine.

A huge red harpoon and the words "A Magazine That
Hurts— For Postal Clerks" were on the front co\er, and a
memorial tombstone to three clerks burned to death in a
wreck was the frontispiece. "Strike?— No! Publicity?— Yes!"
was its opening headline. Articles in tense, compelling style


outlined its purpose "to let the public, especially the busi-
ness public, knoiu . . . the abuses . . ." The horrible details
of insanitary water and bedbug-infested lodgings were ex-
posed. "The Gag Is Nailed!" cried Walter, pleading for
support and decrying the customary fawning and cringing
before the officials. The first edition of 15,000— produced
under heroic conditions, a saga in itself— was sent to every
senator and congressman, every big postal official, every
worth-while newspaper, and thousands of R.P.C.s and P.O.
clerks. Its articles were sensational yet positive, captivating
the reader's interest in Walter's unorthodox, startling man-
ner. He printed and circulated the paper at his own ex-
pense for months, throwing a bombshell into government
labor affairs, after a narrow escape from total failure.

Gradually subscriptions and extra money came in; a car-
toonist was hired and the N.E.A. syndicated the cover design.
The second issue printed glowing tributes from many, bitter
notes from officials, and startling articles on the unflushable
"tank and can" in many cars, delay to mails through disgrace-
ful personnel management at depots, rotten-wood cars, and
"iced rat soup" (the rat was found inside the drinking water).
It made newspaper headline everywhere.

The leviathan of officialdom quivered with rage at the
Harpoon's biting barbs. Both Urban and Beatty, the Ama-
rillo & Pecos (Santa Fe) clerk who had sent in the dead rat,
were promptly fired; officials threatened all supporters of the
infamous magazine with dismissal; the Second Assistant
Postmaster General decried the "flagrantly false representa-
tions of the R.M.S." in it. The Railway Mail Association,
with the exception of its fighting Publicity Committee, also
threw up its hands in horror at these disloyal tactics. Under
President J. T. Canfield, R.M.A. leaders honestly felt that
their policy of respectful conciliation toward the Department
was the best way of securing benefits for all clerks, and they
doubtless thought they were saving at least one clerk's job
by dismissing their militant Publicity Committee at the next
convention (its chairman, E. H. Roberts, had been threatened
with discharge).


Walter moved the Harpoon to Denver, changed it to news-
paper format, and backed up his campaign with hundreds of
letters and telegrams to Congress, securing over two hundred
pledges of support. The Department, a bit on guard by
then, began to order wooden mail cars kept away from en-
gines in the train consist; sanitation was improved a bit, a
few more steel cars added, and up to thirty days' sick leave
(evidently without pay) granted the clerks. Simultaneously,
two law students among the clerks started a campaign for
travel allowances, convinced by a study of the P. L. & R. that
they were due. Others including the R.M.A., but especially
the Harpoon, took up the fight; and legislation the following
year (1911) granted the first pittance of twenty-five cents per
day— although seventy-five cents was authorized— to clerks for
travel expenses.

But conditions were still intolerable. Clerks reporting
filthy or unsafe cars were told to stop being so fussy. The Ser-
vice Rating System was again expanded into a fearful weapon
of discipline, with new penalties being added without notice
to the clerks and harshly applied, to their complete surprise.
Walter, raging against these and other practices, was sued
three times for libel by the government, but without success.
Lines were badly understaffed, but on top of this Hitchcock
issued orders to "take up the slack" by reducing layoffs and
lengthening hours. Men who "never went stuck" now cared
little if they didn't get "up." Morale was at its lowest in the
winter of 1910-1911; not even the customary Christmas help
was allowed, and tons of Christmas mail remained unworked
for days amid a chaos of sidetracked cars with men called in
from layoffs, back-and-forth hauls until mail could be worked
out, and quadrennial weighings where this shuttling became a
four-year expense. The wreck situation was climaxed by
a Christmas Eve crash killing four clerks— in a wooden car
just passed at inspection despite new "safe-and-sound con-
struction" specifications issued July first. When a catcher
arm was pulled out of the rotten wood in another accident,
the event was reported— and three years later the rotten wood
had still not been replaced.


The press, which had been backing the Administration,
now swung around to skepticism of Hitchcock's policies and
pubhshed vivid accounts of dissatisfaction in the railway mail
and post-office services, as well as photos of huge piles of
"stuck" Christmas mail and broadsides against the Postmaster
General. One striking photo was obtained by Walter at
Denver, despite temporary arrest, of stacks of bag-mail.

In January 1911 came the crisis: Clerks on the 225-mile
Tracy & Pierre (C&NW) went on "strike." This line, now
"The Elroy" (Elroy & Rapid City), was a twice-daily service
from Minnesota into South Dakota's state capital, employing
thirteen to sixteen clerks on a six-day-on, six-off basis.
(Another source says two weeks on, one off.) Its borrowed
sixty-foot car was choked with working mails for four states
as "green" helpers arrived just at leaving time, leaving it still
badly undermanned. The clerk-in-charge had to do almost
half the letter sorting besides his heavy record work; over
one hundred new clerks assigned to the line at some time had
quit it, and the helper runs were going stuck five days weekly
as early as 1899. In 1910 alone, sixteen dissatisfied clerks had
resigned or transferred.

Eight clerks "ran through," Avhile at least three (two at a
time) were helpers between Tracy and Huron, South Dakota,
leaving only two "through" men in each crew. Soon, how-
ever, certain through clerks were ordered to run west only as
far as Bltmt, South Dakota, since through-running of all
clerks would necessitate a higher salary classification for the
line. And there were no sleeping accommodations at Blunt,
so these men had to run through to Pierre anyway, helping
without pay.

And now, in "taking up the slack," Superintendent Nor-
man Perkins at St. Paul (who had profanely denounced
the Harpoon) issued an order through Chief Clerk Denison
at Aberdeen that all regular clerks on the Tracy & Pierre
report on their layoffs without pay to keep up a vacancy on
one of the helper runs out of Huron (its occupant had re-
signed—the position was abolished). At least half the regular
clerks lived in either Tracy or Pierre and would have to


deadhead to Huron twelve hours before leaving time, taking
three nights of their layoff for the unpaid trip. A protest to
Denison, signed by Fred C. Ohman, Claire W. Holcomb, and
other clerks, was fruitless. Thereupon all thirteen clerks,
with one exception, declined to cover the extra runs and, as
they came due, did not report. Some inspectors backed up the
clerks at first, and even secured the discharge of one official
involved; but that only outraged those higher up.

All twelve of the "strikers" were suspended for insubordi-
nation and failure to protect runs; five were later discharged,
the others reduced. It was a startling situation— virtual
mutiny, yet justified on the ground of unjust, physically un-
endurable conditions. Mail piled up in appalling congestion;
desperately, officials tried to get the line into working order.
To assist Forsburg, the one "loyal" clerk (he was commended
and promoted), two others were hastily transferred from near-
by units; scores of substitutes were rushed to the line, and
utter chaos reigned for two months as "strikebreakers" totally
imfamiliar with the distribution were brought in from all
nearby divisions. Even Chief Clerk Wolfe had to take the
run once, in addition to helping sort 1,100 sacks of unworked
papers on the station platform at Phillips, South Dakota.
Mail rode up and down the line undelivered for a week or
more; a letter from Miller to Huron, almost the next station,
took several weeks to get there.

The news spread like wildfire, making the Department
apprehensive of new strikes. It was reported that a similar
strike had occurred on the connecting Oakes & Hawarden
(C&rNW), but investigation has indicated that it did not.
Still, clerks every^vhere followed developments with consum-
ing interest; the Harpoon took up the cause with vigor, and
contributions to assist the strikers poured in. "What's the
latest on the T.&P.?" was heard everywhere. Clerks and sub-
stitutes called for runs on the line, overwhelmingly sympa-
thetic with the cause, found every conceivable excuse for
staying home or reporting sick. Forsburg and his regular
assistant were treated with utter scorn, and their line was
swamped with sacks of squealers and nixies. Over two hun-


dred resignations were written out by clerks near by, ready
to hand in if things didn't improve.

One month after the strike began, indignation crystallized
in the organization of the Brotiierhood of Railway Postal
Clerks at Harpoon headquarters in February 1911. (A local
group of the same name had been organized in Los Angeles
in 1907 but was crushed by the Department.) For six years
the B.R.P.C., while never the size of the R.M.A., was destined
to be the most influential national group of railway mail
clerks ever known thus far. It openly advocated affiliation
with the American Federation of Labor; introduced a secret
grip, ritual, and password; and organized active lodges at
Denver, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco, Minneapolis,
and a dozen other cities. Its colorful red-and-black union
card was decorated with green and orange stamps certifying
to dues payment ($1 and $2)— rare, attractive adhesives of
which only a few specimens exist today. The initiation ritual
was grimly humorous, the blindfolded candidate, as a "new
sub," was put through a third degree of questioning by a
Class 2 clerk, assessed "demerits" for his answers, and put
through an appalling simulated wreck.

Thus was literally fulfilled an announced purpose of the
Harpoon in its first issue: "To cement the . . . clerks into one
vast, vital, pulsating Brotherhood." Walter, elected secretary-
treasurer, introduced for the first time among postal groups
the direct election of national officers by mail ballot, the
monthly published and open audit of funds, and the public
handling of all routine business through its official journal—
naturally, the Harpoon.

Meanwhile the Department tried both appeasement and
oppression on the "struck" line. Overdue promotions were
handed out; even the strikers, before suspension, were offered
clerk-in-chargeships (promptly refused). Then, suspended,
they were spied upon or harassed until their discharge or
reduction; substitutes were given demerits for not taking the
run. Apparently none of the discharged clerks was ever
reinstated; many went into business successfully, and Ohman
(discharged, with Holcomb) later entered the legislature. Of

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