EMILY BISSELL Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


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Name: Emily P. Bissell                                                               
Born: May 31, 1861                                                                   
Died: 1948                                                                           
Emily P. Bissell (May 31, 1861 - 1948) was an American social worker and             
activist, best remembered for introducing Christmas Seals to the United States.       
Born in Wilmington, Delaware, she made a name for herself at a young age as the       
founder of that city's first public kindergarten and for her efforts to               
introduce child labor laws in that state. In 1883, she founded an organization,       
now known as the West End Neighborhood House that originally provided social         
services to Wilmington's immigrant Irish and German families. Nevertheless, she       
avoided politics and was closely identified with the anti-suffragist movement.       
In 1900, she testified before the United States Senate Committee on Woman's           
Suffrage, arguing that women had no place in politics.                               
Several years later, in 1907, she was drawn to the cause of helping people with       
tuberculosis (TB). She had already heard of an idea in Denmark in which people       
attached a special stamp to their mail, the proceeds of which would go to fight       
the disease, and decided to introduce the same idea in Delaware. Her goal was to     
raise $300 for a local sanitarium, using a bright red stamp she designed herself,     
and convinced local post offices to sell them for just 1 cent. This way, she         
believed, even the poorest people could help in the fight against TB.                 
Though the idea failed at first, Bissell was able to gain enough publicity from       
a Philadelphia newspaper to make $3,000, ten times the amount she originally         
hoped to get. People were intrigued by the idea of Christmas Seals, and the           
following year, Howard Pyle, a notable illustrator from Wilmington, donated the       
design of the second stamp.                                                           
Bissell spent the remainder of her life promoting Christmas stamps and helping       
to eliminate tuberculosis. She died in 1948. A public hospital outside               
Wilmington bears her name.                                                           
In 1980, on the 119th anniversary of her birth, the U.S. Postal Service issued a     
15 cent stamp in her honor.