Who is this young woman in a photograph from the Smithsonian’s collection, and why is she dressed as a Mail Girl? Although women did sometimes take over the delivery routes of men in times of war, I doubt this 1860 image is an example of Civil War era patriotism.
Whoever she was, her outfit is strongly reminiscent of the costumes worn by a far better known American icon: Annie Oakley. Annie, nicknamed “Little Sure Shot,” was born in 1860, the approximate year the Mail Girl photo was taken. Even 25 years later when Annie joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, such an outfit showed a daring amount of leg for Victorian sensibilities—flamboyance tolerated only in performers and Mail Girls.
Learn more about Annie Oakley on biography.com.