The telegram deliverer was more than a messenger

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Silvia Pettem, Looking Back

In 1944, when Janet Ridsdale, now Janet Justice-Waddington, accepted the Western Union telegram delivery post in Boulder, her employers asked her if she could really go up the slopes. She assured them that she was doing it so often, so she got the job. The Boulder High School student was 16 at the time and became the first girl to deliver telegrams to Boulder.

Previously, for part-time help, Western Union had only hired boys. However, many high school students, some were only 17 at the time; had left school to join the men who served their country in World War II. Girls and women have returned to work at home.

“My bike was my freedom,” Janet said in a recent interview. “I had to get my Social Security card, I had to wear an official Western Union hat, and I bought a brand new bike.”

Janet Ridsdale, Western Union’s first delivery girl in Boulder, posed with her bicycle in 1944 (Janet Justice-Waddington)

Every day after school Janet would cycle from Boulder High to the Telegraph Office at 1332 Pearl St. opposite the Boulder County Courthouse. The office was a busy place, with a ticker constantly clicking.

Fascinated, Janet sat by the door waiting for new messages. Then she put them in an official Western Union bag. Whenever she received multiple telegrams, she would consult a large map of Boulder hanging on the wall to determine her best route. After delivering the first batch, she returned for more.

Used to cycling all over Boulder, Janet went from her family’s house on 9th Street to school, friends’ houses and her father’s blind store at 1645 Pearl St. But her job has broadened its horizons –– from the University of Colorado at Boulder south of downtown to Longs Gardens in North Boulder, with stops at downtown businesses and residential areas in between.

She still remembers a telegram she gave to the CU Boulder Men’s Gymnasium. Janet knocked on several doors before finding one that was open. ” NS ! a swimming pool, with a lot of body, ”she said. “Also, a gruff officer stopped me, making me back out the door. The guys in the pool were all naked!

Janet had no idea what the contents of this telegram were, but she learned that some telegrams were in envelopes marked with two stars, indicating that the telegram inside contained a death notice.

At the time, telegrams were the fastest written form of communication and were used in times of war to notify a family of the death of a serviceman. Official letters would follow, but the delivery man was the frontline messenger.

Janet learned that if she delivered one of those two-star telegrams, she would have to ask if the recipient was alone and should stay, or offer to stay, after delivering the tragic news.

“One was too personal for me,” Janet said. “He announced the death of Bert Christian, an 18-year-old Marine killed in action in the Marshall Islands. I had two dates with him when he was on leave at home.

Fortunately, the Marine’s family member was not alone, and his death notice was the only such telegram Janet was scheduled to deliver. Yet at the age of 94 Janet remembers lovingly being a delivery girl, adding, “Telegram delivery seemed like such an important job. People paid for every word and they went all over the world.

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