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First in the West, This Female Had a Mail Job

May 18, 1986|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

TRINIDAD, Calif. — Jessie Turner Woodcock was doing her daily exercises. She reached down and touched the ground several times--without bending her knees. She did several stretching exercises, then pedaled her stationary bicycle 100 revolutions in rapid succession.

Woodcock celebrated her 90th birthday on April 1.

"I can't believe it myself because I don't feel old at all," said Woodcock, the first female mail carrier in the West.

She earned that distinction as a result of World War I when she was hired to walk eight miles a day, six days a week delivering mail in Willits, Calif. Her pay was $80 a month.

"I was 22 when I got the job," she recalled. "Willits was a small town. All the young men had gone off to war. The post office needed someone to deliver the mail and I was hired."

She held the job for a year, from 1918 to 1919, until the soldier she replaced returned home from the war. Her scrapbook contains a clipping from a 1919 San Francisco newspaper in which the post office called her the "first girl mail carrier in the West."

Describing herself as an "early day woman's libber," Woodcock said she shocked the residents of Willits when she began wearing slacks while delivering mail.

"For the first two weeks I walked my route wearing long skirts. But the dust was so thick I couldn't stand it," she recalled. "So, I made my own khaki uniform. Women didn't wear slacks then. I was the talk of the town."

Before working for the post office, she taught at a one-room school in the remote settlement of Spyrock in Mendocino County's Eel River Canyon.

"Spyrock was a rail siding. I taught school in an old shed. My house was a shack. I was eaten by bedbugs. The railroad station agent's wife and I would pump our way to town on a railroad hand car. It was primitive, I'll tell you," she said.

Became Secretary

She graduated from Humboldt State Normal School (now Humboldt State University in Arcata) in 1917. After the post office job, she became secretary, registrar and bookkeeper at Humboldt State.

Woodcock went on to become the first woman business manager of a California state college. She retired from Humboldt State in 1951 and still lives in Humboldt County.

She had been married 54 years when her husband, Leighton, a meat cutter, died in 1976.

Woodcock said she spends her time working in the garden, feeding wild birds and playing cards "with girlfriends every Sunday afternoon. Then we go out to dinner. We're always trying the new places to eat."

What keeps her young, she said, is exercising, working in the yard, "Oil of Olay on my face and a little whiskey every night before dinner."

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