It’s early on a warm summer day in 1938. Doris Hatch, 12, climbs into a canoe several times longer than she is tall. Skillfully, she paddles along the hushed waters of Ballston Lake on her way to deliver The Daily Gazette to resident campers.
Doris Hatch Cole was the newspaper’s first female carrier, she said. Today, at 83 years of age, she still has the can-do attitude and self assured spirit that made her a great candidate for the job she remembers fondly.
Her older brother, Jim, had the route before her. When he turned 16, he was eligible to work at General Electric as an office boy. The Gazette’s route supervisor asked him for a recommendation of someone who could take his place.
“My brother was tearing his hair out trying to think of a replacement,” Cole said, adding that most of the families around the lake had girl children, not boys.
As Cole tells it, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“I was jumping up and down. I wanted it. I shouted, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it,’ ” she said.
The supervisor looked at her and said, “How old are you?”
“I told him I was 12. He said, ‘You look like 15 to me.’ And I got the job,” she continued. She loved it.
The daughter of Brainard and Katharine Hatch, she had an independent nature and learned to canoe at age 4. She paddled daily and enjoyed being out on the lake.
To make her deliveries, she picked up the newspapers first at a trolley car stop and later in the village of Ballston Lake. Initially, she had to walk from her camp, through a swamp to the trolley stop. “The swamp was buggy. I guess I had thick skin back then,” she said.
Later the newspapers were dropped off in the village.
“I would ride my bike to the village, which was a mile away. Then I would go home and load the newspapers in the canoe and paddle around the lake,” she explained.
The lake is in a chasm, with the camps up on a steep cliff, she said. Young Doris would dock the boat and walk up the path and along the road to drop off the papers to the camps. In total, she had between 35 and 40 customers. “It varied because of the summer people,” she said.
The canoe she used was approximately 18 feet long with wooden paddles carved by her father. Cole said she was a strong, muscular child. “I could beat my older brother in a swimming match across the lake,” she said.
The newspaper cost 3 cents a copy back then, and Doris was paid 2 cents a paper. “I was paid more because it was hard to find someone to deliver that route,” she said.
Money wasn’t her motivation, she said. It was the activity and the people she met that made it worthwhile.
Her favorite day was Saturday — collection day — and her favorite customer was “Mr. Switz. He was the grandfather of a classmate of mine named Tweeter. Mr. Switz told stories about old Schenectady and I learned so much from him,” Cole said. She credits Grandpa Switz, which is what she called him, with instilling in her a lifelong love of local history with his stories of Schenectady, Rexford and the Erie Canal.
Cole gave up her route when she turned 16 and entered high school. She later earned an interior design degree from Syracuse University. She married Charles Cole in 1949 and together they raised eight children. Her husband passed away in 1983.
In addition to raising a large family, Cole had a career teaching art classes, including weaving, watercolor painting, photography, filmmaking and pottery in the Niskayuna school system. Today, her children live around the country and Cole is the grandmother of nine children and great-grandmother of four children. She still reads The Daily Gazette.