Fields c. 1895
|Died||1914 (aged 81–82)|
Great Falls, Montana, U.S.
|Occupation||Freighter, cook, domestic worker, star route mail carrier|
|Known for||First African-American woman star route mail carrier in the U.S.|
Mary Fields (circa 1832–1914), also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, was the first African-American female star route mail carrier in the United States. She was not an employee of the United States Post Office Department, which did not hire or employ mail carriers for star routes, but rather awarded star route contracts to persons who proposed the lowest qualified bids, and who, in accordance with the department’s application process, posted bonds and sureties to substantiate their ability to finance the route. Once a contract was awarded, the contractor could then drive the route themselves, sublet the route, or hire an experienced driver. Some individuals obtained multiple star route contracts and conducted the operations as a business.
Fields had the star route contract for the delivery of U.S. mail from Cascade, Montana, to Saint Peter's Mission in 1885. She drove the route for two four-year contracts, from 1895 to 1899 and from 1899 to 1903.
Author Miantae Metcalf McConnell provided documentation discovered during her research about Mary Fields to the United States Postal Service Archives Historian in 2006. This enabled the USPS to establish Mary Fields' contribution as the first African-American female star route mail carrier in the United States.
Early life and career
Born into slavery in Hickman County, Tennessee, around 1832, Fields was freed when slavery was outlawed in the United States in 1865. She then worked in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne. When Dunne's wife Josephine died in 1883, in San Antonio, Florida, Fields took the family's five children to their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, the mother superior of an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio.
In 1884, Mother Amadeus was sent to Montana Territory to establish a school for Native American girls at St. Peter's Mission, west of Cascade. Learning that Amadeus was stricken with pneumonia, Fields hurried to Montana to nurse her back to health. Amadeus recovered, and Fields stayed at St. Peter's, hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, and repairing buildings, and eventually became the forewoman.
The Native Americans called Fields "White Crow", because "she acts like a white woman but has black skin".
In 1894, after several complaints and an incident with a disgruntled male subordinate that involved gunplay, the bishop ordered her to leave the convent. Mother Amadeus helped her open a restaurant in nearby Cascade. Fields would serve food to anyone, whether they could pay or not, and the restaurant closed due to bankruptcy about 10 months later.
When she was about 60 years old, Fields secured a star route contract with the help of nearby Ursuline nuns, who relied on Mary for help at their mission. This made her the first African-American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service.
She drove the route with horses and a mule named Moses. She never missed a day, and her reliability earned her the nickname "Stagecoach" due to her preferred mode of transportation. If the snow were too deep for her horses, Fields delivered the mail on snowshoes, carrying the sacks on her shoulders.
She was a respected public figure in Cascade, and the town closed its schools to celebrate her birthday each year. When Montana passed a law forbidding women to enter saloons, the mayor of Cascade granted her an exemption. In 1903, at age 71, Fields retired from star route mail carrier service. She continued to babysit many Cascade children and owned and operated a laundry service from her home.
Fields died in 1914 at Columbus Hospital in Great Falls, but she was buried outside Cascade.
Legacy and representations in popular culture
- In the documentary South by Northwest, "Homesteaders" (1976), Fields is played by Esther Rolle.
- In the TV movie The Cherokee Kid (1996), Fields is played by Dawnn Lewis.
- In the TV movie Hannah's Law (2012), she is played by Kimberly Elise.
- In the short Western, They Die By Dawn (2013), Fields is played by Erykah Badu.
- In 1959, actor and Montana native Gary Cooper wrote an article for EBONY in which he wrote, "Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38."
- "Stagecoach" Mary Fields, a screenplay by Georgianne Landy-Kordis
- A biography for children, Fearless Mary: The True Adventures of Mary Fields, American Stagecooach Driver by Tami Charles
- Fields is the subject of Michael Hearst's song "Stagecoach Mary", as part of his 2015 Extraordinary People project.
- In the TV AMC series, "Hell On Wheels" (2011–2016), Fields is played by Amber Chardae Robinson, featured in five episodes during 2015–2016, season five.
- Asteroid 7091 Maryfields, discovered by Kenneth Lawrence and Eleanor Helin at Palomar in 1992, was named in her honor. The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 8 November 2019 (M.P.C. 118218).
- Shirley, Gayle C. (2011). More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women (2nd ed.). Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 978-0-7627-6692-5.
- Cooper, Gary & Crawford, Marc (October 1959). "Stagecoach Mary". EBONY (Reprinted Oct. 1977 ed.). Johnson Publishing Company. p. 98.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- Metcalf McConnell, Miantae (2016). "Mary Fields's Road to Freedom". Black Cowboys in the American West, On the Range, On the Stage, Behind the Badge. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 156.
- Metcalf McConnell, Miantae (2016). Deliverance Mary Fields, First African American Woman Star Route Mail Carrier in the United States: A Montana History. Huzzah Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9978770-0-7.
- Drewry, Jennifer M. (March–April 1999). "Mary Fields a pioneer in Cascade's past". Cascade Montana Community Website. Archived from the original on July 29, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- "Mary Fields". Legends of America. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- "History of San Antonio, Florida". sanantoniofla.com.
- "Stagecoach Mary Fields | National Postal Museum". postalmuseum.si.edu. Retrieved 2020-11-13.
- "Stagecoach Mary Fields | National Postal Museum". postalmuseum.si.edu. Retrieved 2020-12-04.
- Franks, James A. (2000). Mary Fields (Black Mary) (1st ed.). Santa Cruz, Calif.: Wild Goose Press. ISBN 0965717348.
- South by Northwest. Washington State University. 1976. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
- Cooper, Gary, as told to Marc Crawford (October 1977). Stagecoach Mary : A Gun-Toting Black Woman Delivered the Mail in Montana. Ebony.
- Landy-Kordis, Georgianne (2016). "Stagecoach" Mary Fields : a screenplay. Oklahoma: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 9781530807734. OCLC 1011509713.
- Charles, Tami (2019). Fearless Mary : Mary Fields, American stagecoach driver. Almon, Claire. Chicago, Illinois: Albert Whitman Company. ISBN 9780807523056. OCLC 1038041171.
- Hearst, Michael (19 October 2017). "Stagecoach Mary". Extraordinary People.
- "7091 (1992 JA)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
- "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 20 November 2019.