How Christmas Seals Caught On In Delaware

In 1907, Wilmington activist Emily Bissell turned to a Philadelphia newspaper to raise money for tuberculosis treatment.


Published:

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Don’t let anyone kid you. Fake news is an old tradition—and everyone loves it.

Take, for instance, Emily Bissell’s idea to raise money for tuberculosis treatment in 1907. Her Christmas Seals sold modestly, but needed a large burst of publicity to bring in needed cash. So Bissell found a newspaper editor who recognized the promotional potential of a feel-good cause that all of his readers could participate in.

“Tell Miss Bissell the North American is hers for the holidays,” E. A. Van Valkenburg, editor-in-chief of the influential Philadelphia newspaper, told one of his columnists. “Drop what you’re doing and give this your whole time. Take all the space you need. Ask her to send us 50,000 (Christmas Seals) by tomorrow.”

At that moment, Bissell’s entire inventory consisted of only 4,000 Christmas Seals, which she hoped to sell for a penny each. To supply 50,000, she had to scramble. But she got it done and, in the end, raised $3,000—10 times the original goal.

A lifelong Wilmingtonian, Emily Perkins Bissell (1861-1948) was the daughter of a prominent family who believed in volunteerism. As a young woman, she founded the city’s first public kindergarten and joined a group lobbying for child-labor laws. In 1883, she founded the Italian Neighborhood House to assist new immigrants with Americanization, literacy, housing and employment. It survives as the West End Neighborhood House.


RELATED: The Enduring Importance of Wilmington's West End Neighborhood House


In 1907, knowing of Bissell’s connections, her cousin John Wales, M.D., came to her for help. Wales operated a small TB “shack”—a sort of open-air hospital—but was almost out of money.

Now rare, TB—or consumption—is an infectious disease of the lungs that was once a major killer. Before development of an effective vaccine in the 1920s, the primary treatment was fresh air and sunshine. In Delaware, in 1904, the fledgling Delaware Anti-Tuberculosis Society raised $4,000 to open such a facility near what is now Bellevue State Park. When NIMBY neighbors objected, Alfred I. du Pont, creator of the splendid Nemours estate, offered the use of his property near the Brandywine.

“We struggled along those first years, always fighting against public apathy and financial stringency,” Wales recalled in 1932. “I well remember one cold morning the patron calling me up on the phone to tell me there was not enough food for the patients and no money to buy any.”

Challenged to “see what you can do,” Bissell recalled reading of a Danish program that sold small lick-and-stick stamps—Christmas Seals—that people put on their holiday mail. Two friends contributed $20 each to underwrite the effort, and a printer did the job on credit.

The DuPont Co. handled publicity and advertising. Women’s clubs, shopkeepers and local newspapers showed interest. The Wilmington post office allowed Bissell to sell her stamps in its corridor. On Dec. 7, 1907, the first day of sales produced $25.

Bissell, however, worried that sales in little Wilmington would be insufficient to reach her goal of $300. She got on the train to Philadelphia, where the Sunday editor at the North American threw her out of his office. TB, he said, was a terrible disease, so why should he spoil everyone’s fun by tying it to a beloved holiday?

Next, Bissell poked her head into the office of columnist Leigh Hodges to say she “liked his writing.” The writer absorbed the compliment and asked if there was anything he could do for her. Bissell had some ideas.

Remember that TB was an ancient disease. Signs of it are recognizable in Egyptian mummies. It was generally considered incurable, a likely death sentence. Physicians such as Wales who said otherwise were mocked. Its treatment was not seen as urgent. TB was not news.

Still, Hodges was intrigued, then excited. It was the holidays, and newspapers needed human-interest stories to bring readers. Sob stories—stricken children! dying mothers!—were irresistible.

Hodges took a sheet of Bissell’s stamps and slammed them on his editor’s desk.

“Here’s a way to wipe out tuberculosis!” he exclaimed.

“What the hell do you mean?” replied Van Valkenburg.

“Just that! Look at them: a penny apiece; within everyone’s reach,” replied Hodges. “Think how they’ll carry the news of what people can do for themselves. What a headline: Stamp out tuberculosis!”

Van Valkenburg thought for a moment of the weepy stories waiting to be written and of the touched masses waiting to push forward their pennies. Soon, Bissell had all the fake news she wanted.

Not fake to all, of course. On the first day of sales in Philadelphia, Hodges wrote of a small boy who approached a counter he couldn’t see over and handed up a penny: “Gimme one,” he said. “Me sister’s got it.”

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Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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TRANSIT by Maryanne Pollock January 27 - April 26, 2018Opening Reception: Friday, February 2, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop On Art:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 5:25 - 6 PM Maryanne...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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Thursday, April 26, 8:00 p.m. Gore Recital Hall David Rose was born in Regina, Saskatchewan and there began his early musical education and violin study. At the suggestion of his first teacher,...

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
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Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Website »

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Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Calling all Doodles!  Pack up your owners and head for Dewey Delaware for the Annual DoodlesinDewey ~ a fun filled time on the beach at a low-key "funraiser" for Food&Friends, a DC based...

Cost: $10-25 suggested

Where:
Dewey Beach
Saulsbury St
Dewey Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Food&Friends
Telephone: 301.467.5523
Contact Name: Amy Scott
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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Our thoughts and our stage turn to music, mayhem and marriage with the multi-Tony nominated "The Wedding Singer". Shows are at 8pm on April 27 and 28, and May 4 and 5.  There are 2pm...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

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Night Ranger, the band that invented the power ballad of the 1980s, brings its classic sound to the SugarHouse Casino Event Center on Friday, April 27, at 9 p.m. Tickets for the band’s 35th...

Cost: $29-49

Where:
SugarHouse Casino
1001 N. Delaware Ave
Philadelphia, PA  19125
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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Girl Scout Junior Not just a pretty face! With the Winterthur Garden as a laboratory, earn the Flowers badge while discovering how flowers function and recording your experience in a garden...

Cost: $12

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington , DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information & Tours
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

Maker Fest Enjoy a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. This event features demonstrations from area makers showcasing...

Cost: Admission is $10 for Adults, $5 for Hagley Members and Youth 6-18; under 6 free

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Water is Life Kenya is hosting its annual Water Walk fundraiser Saturday, April 28th at the Newark Reservoir. Funds raised will help complete Water is Life Kenya's clean water project in Kuku, a...

Cost: 10.00-25.00

Where:
Newark Reservoir
Old Paper Mill Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: Water is Life Kenya
Telephone: (302) 894-7335
Contact Name: Colleen Leithren
Website »

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Girl Scout Daisy Take a step on your Flower Garden journey during this fun-filled exploration of the Winterthur garden. $10 per girl.

Cost: $10

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 180-044-83883
Contact Name: Information & Tours
Website »

More information

Discover the thrill of printmaking inspired by nature. Using spring plants and simple materials, students will explore the possibilities of organic and geometric compositions with layered shapes...

Cost: $80 Members, $100 Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Calling all Doodles!  Pack up your owners and head for Dewey Delaware for the Annual DoodlesinDewey ~ a fun filled time on the beach at a low-key "funraiser" for Food&Friends, a DC based...

Cost: $10-25 suggested

Where:
Dewey Beach
Saulsbury St
Dewey Beach, DE  19971
View map »


Sponsor: Food&Friends
Telephone: 301.467.5523
Contact Name: Amy Scott
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 28, 2018 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm Wilmington Country Club 4825 Kennett Pike Wilmington, DE   Guests will enjoy a four course seated dinner prepared by award-winning chefs...

Cost: Call for sponsor opportunities.

Where:
Wilmington Country Club
4825 Kennett Pike
Wilmington , DE  19807
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Sponsor: Meals On Wheels Delaware
Telephone: 302-656-6451
Contact Name: Jennifer Halliday

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38th Annual Rare Plant Auction® at Longwood Gardens A benefit that enriches urban neighborhoods through the power of plants. Join us at the 38th Annual Rare Plant Auction® on Saturday, April...

Cost: $125-$600

Where:
Longwood Garden
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Lenny Wilson
Website »

More information

Clark Wilson from East Liverpool, Ohio, is a favorite and master with silent films.  He is the house organist at the Ohio Theater and has recently been appointed to the Music Department staff of...

Cost: $20 Adults, $10 Students, Groups Call 302-995-2603

Where:
John Dickinson High School
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-2603
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
Website »

More information

Our thoughts and our stage turn to music, mayhem and marriage with the multi-Tony nominated "The Wedding Singer". Shows are at 8pm on April 27 and 28, and May 4 and 5.  There are 2pm...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 28, 8:00 p.m. Loudis Recital Hall Cap off the day-long Steel Band Festival (in Puglisi Orchestra Hall beginning at noon) with the featured festival concert.   There is no...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loudis Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

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