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Bissell, Emily (1861–1948)

Bissell, Emily (1861–1948)

American welfare worker and founder of Christmas Seals. Born Emily Perkins Bissell on May 31, 1861, in Wilmington, Delaware; died on March 8, 1948, in Wilmington; first daughter and second of four children of Champion Aristarcus Bissell (a banker and real estate investor) and Josephine (Wales) Bissell; educated in the Wilmington schools and at Miss Charlier's in New York City.

Emily Bissell's name will forever be associated with the first Christmas Seals, though she was active in a number of charities in her hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, for her entire life. Organizer of the first chapter of the American Red Cross for Delaware, she also created the first public playground and the first free kindergarten in Wilmington.

The concept of selling a Christmas stamp to raise funds to battle tuberculosis was the idea of a postal clerk in Denmark. Remarkably successful from the onset, the idea was publicized in the U.S. by Danish-born journalist Jacob Rils. After reading an article by Rils, Bissell designed her own seal surrounded by a wreath and the words "Merry Christmas." Borrowing money to have 50,000 stamps printed, she launched her own campaign, which netted $3,000. In 1907, she persuaded the American Red Cross to mount a nationwide strategy to sell the stamps. Subsequently, the National Tuberculosis Association took over their creation and sale. For her contribution on behalf of those stricken with tuberculosis, in 1942 Bissell was the first lay person to be awarded the Trudeau Medal of the National Tuberculosis Association. She was further honored in 1980 with the issuance of a U.S. stamp bearing her likeness.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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