Clara R. A. Nelson looks a mixture of sad, bored and frustrated in this 1917 photo; she has mountains of work to do and instead has to hold a pose for a photographer, with her boss, Marvin McLean, the superintendent of the Dead Letter department. To prepare for this clerical job, Miss Nelson attended the Spencerian Business College, Washington, D.C., class of 1886; John Philip Sousa and the Marine Band played three numbers to open the commencement ceremony. It was a hot day with long speeches, and hand fans were fluttering everywhere in the auditorium.
At her desk, we see Clara stacking money from undeliverable mail, but I’m sure she wasn’t skimming; she twice defaulted on the mortgage for her house at 5804 Ruatan Street in Berwyn Heights, Maryland; the house is still there. Clara died in 1963.
Because her father, Halvor Nelson, was a Captain in the Civil War, serving as a white officer in the 52nd U.S. Colored Infantry, Clara’s remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.