Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Created by Lauren Golden and Christine Mereand, National Postal Museum
Many of the women depicted on United States postage stamps have made significant contributions to their chosen professions. In "Women on Stamps: Part 2", we feature women who pioneered in the fields of health, science, education, philanthropy, aviation and athletics. This is the second virtual exhibit in a series of four.
33c Women Support War Effort stamp (1999-02-18) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
- Pioneering Women
- Health: Saving Lives
- Elizabeth Blackwell
- Caring for the Wounded in the Civil War: Phoebe Pember and Mary Edwards Walker
- Clara Barton
- Health and Social Reform: Dorothea Dix
- Health and Social Reform: Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton
- Fighting Disease: Emily Bissell and Clara Maass
- Expanding Healthcare: Mary Breckinridge and Virginia Apgar
- Military Medics
- Education: Enriching Lives
- Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan
- Frances Elizabeth Willard
- Science: Improving Lives
- Changing Anthropology: Ruth Fulton Benedict and Margaret Mead
- Rachel Carson
- Lillian Gilbreth
- Professionals and Philanthropists: Enhancing Lives
- Philanthropists: Moina Michael and Lila Wallace
- Juliette Gordon Low and the Girl Scouts
- Aviators and Athletes: Inspiring Lives
- Aviatrix: Bessie Coleman
- Aviatrixes: Blanche Stuart Scott and Jacqueline Cochran
- Aviatrix: Amelia Earhart
- Athletes: Hazel Wrightman
- Athletes: Babe Zaharias
- Athletes: Helene Madison & Wilma Rudolph
4c American Woman stamp (1960-06-02)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Many of the women depicted on United States postage stamps have made significant contributions to their chosen professions. In Women on Stamps: Part 2, we feature women who pioneered in the fields of health, science, education, philanthropy, aviation and athletics.
These women exemplify the characteristics of courage, fortitude, and persistence that aided them in gaining acceptance and recognition in male-dominated fields. Though faced with challenges, many of these women accomplished ‘firsts’ in their chosen careers - from Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor, to Blanche Scott, the first female to fly solo. Other women, such as Clara Barton and Jane Addams, responded to the needs of others, founding organizations to improve the lives of under-served populations.
Since the early twentieth century, the United States has honored the significant accomplishments of this diverse group of women through postage stamps.
Health: Saving Lives
During the 19th century, the medical profession was male-dominated as only men could receive formal medical training. Still, pioneering women began to receive formal training and become practicing doctors. Their efforts paved the way for others to enter the field. Women’s role in healthcare has continued to evolve to the present day as women continue to work as physicians, nurses, medical specialists and researchers.
Nursing was one of the first ways women began to take an active role in the medical profession. Their valuable services during the Civil War helped save lives and improve sanitation. The achievements of these women encouraged other females to enter the medical profession after the war. Today nurses continue their work in maintaining the health of society by caring for the sick, assisting doctors and aiding in health research and education.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) became the first American woman to receive a medical degree in 1849, when she graduated first in her class from Geneva Medical College in New York. After continuing her studies in Europe, she returned to the United States and founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in 1853.
During the Civil War Dr. Blackwell trained women to be nurses for the Union Army. She noted how many women were interested in medicine but were denied admittance to predominantly male medical schools. She promptly opened the Woman’s Medical College of New York in 1868, and then created a similar school in England. After her retirement, Dr. Blackwell remained active in the women’s rights movement and was a prolific writer, publishing several books on disease and hygiene.
Caring for the Wounded in the Civil War: Phoebe Pember
Phoebe Pember (1823-1913) was born to a wealthy and prominent family in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1862, widowed and childless, she accepted an offer to work as a nurse and administrator of Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia - the largest military hospital in the world during the Civil War. She managed the care and diets for over 700 patients housed in the hospital, and regulated the supply of whisky for medical purposes only. After the war Phoebe wrote her autobiography, A Southern Woman’s Story, which continues to be a valuable record of the conditions of hospitals during the Civil War.
Caring for the Wounded in the Civil War: Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Walker (1832-1919) was the second American woman to earn her medical degree. She volunteered to work as a field surgeon for the Union Army, employed first as a civilian before being accepted as an employee. She not only treated the wounded, but also crossed the front lines to treat injured civilians, once getting captured and imprisoned by the Confederates. She became the first woman officer ever exchanged as a prisoner of war for a man of the same rank. In 1865, Dr. Walker became the first (and so far only) woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for Meritorious Service. After the war, she continued to advocate women’s rights and dress reform, refusing to wear restrictive women’s clothing. In 1917, her Medal of Honor was one of 900 that the U.S. Army rescinded, but Mary refused to return it. In 1977 her medal was reinstated.
3c Clara Barton stamp (1948-09-07)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Clara Barton (1821- 1912) demonstrated her nurturing spirit early when, at age eleven, she acted as her injured brother’s devoted nurse. At seventeen, she became a teacher and later moved to Washington, DC, to work at the U.S. Patent Office. Responding to the needs of the injured troops arriving in the city in 1861, Clara established an agency to raise provisions and distribute supplies to troops. She became known as the “angel of the battlefield” as she worked to help troops on both sides of the war. She went to the battle front to distribute supplies and accompany sick transports. Her efforts to aid others extended to civilians through her establishment of a Bureau of Records for missing men, helping families locate their loved ones after the war.
Following the war, Clara travelled to Europe, where she met members of the European Society of the Red Cross. She saw the value of their work, learning how they readied supplies and provided training in order to save lives and relieve suffering of soldiers in battle. Upon returning to the United States in 1881, Clara founded the American Association of the Red Cross, and served as the first president. Her legacy endures today as the American Red Cross continues to provide emergency assistance and disaster relief around the world.
32c Clara Barton stamp (1995-06-29) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
The 32c Clara Barton stamp was issued on June 29, 1995.
Health and Social Reform: Dorothea Dix
Many health problems in the 19th century were linked to poor sanitation and a lack of understanding of diseases. Women such as Dorothea Dix, Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton recognized problems within their communities and vowed to help. Their works improved living conditions for thousands, setting a standard of health that continues to the present day.
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) worked ardently for prison reform and to aid the mentally ill. She had been teaching for 20 years when she fell ill and travelled to Europe to recuperate. During her time in England she met people working to reform prisons and improve care for the mentally ill. At that time, prisons housed both criminals and the mentally ill who could not function in society.
Upon returning to the United States Dorothea witnessed the pitiable conditions of the prisons in America. She immediately took action, gathering clothes for inmates, recording conditions at jails and helping several states pass legislation for the mentally ill. Dorothea eventually founded 32 mental hospitals and 15 schools for children with learning disabilities, as well as schools for the blind and nursing schools.
Health and Social Reform: Jane Addams
When Jane Addams (1860-1935) saw the poverty facing many immigrant families, she vowed to help. In 1889, Jane established Hull House in an impoverished neighborhood of Chicago. The settlement home provided the poor and working class, with much needed social services, such as child care and improved sanitation. Jane strongly opposed child labor, helping to pass child labor laws in Illinois. The mayor selected Jane as Chicago’s first female sanitary inspector and her successful policies reduced the death rate in her ward dramatically. She served as president of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom for ten years. In 1931 Jane became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The Jane Addams stamp was issued on April 26, 1940.
Health and Social Reform: Alice Hamilton
Young Dr. Alice Hamilton (1869-1970) heard Jane Addams speak and joined the staff at Hull House, beginning her lifelong effort to improve conditions for the working class in America. In 1910 she was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to investigate industrial diseases, such as lead and carbon monoxide poisoning, becoming a pioneer in industrial medicine. Her discoveries led to worker’s compensation laws, safer working conditions, and the abolishment of child labor. She became the first female faculty member of Harvard Medical School in 1919. Alice continued to work for the United States and the League of Nations conducting industrial studies on pollution. Alice once said “I wouldn’t change my life a bit...For me the satisfaction is that things are better now, and I had some part in it.” The Alice Hamilton stamp was issued on July 11, 1995.
Fighting Disease: Emily Bissell
Many women played a critical role in elevating awareness of certain deadly diseases as well as raising funds to combat their effects.
Emily Bissell (1861-1948) founded Wilmington, Delaware’s first public kindergarten, worked to introduce child labor laws and fought for women’s suffrage. In 1907 she was asked to help raise funds for a small facility working to fight tuberculosis. At the time, tuberculosis was a greatly feared disease, with no known cure. Emily knew of a Danish charity campaign that raised funds by selling special adhesive seals that could be placed on holiday greeting cards. She replicated this idea in Delaware. The funding project proved so popular that the Christmas seals, which featured Christmas or holiday imagery, were sold nationwide the following year. Emily spent the rest of her life promoting Christmas seals and fighting tuberculosis, with the help of the American Red Cross and the National Tuberculosis Association. In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service honored Emily with her very own postagestamp.
Fighting Disease: Clara Maass
Clara Maass (1876-1901) was a contract nurse with the U.S. Army in Florida, Georgia and Cuba during the Spanish American War. She saw how many deaths occurred not because of combat, but from yellow fever. The cause of the disease was unknown and Clara volunteered for a medical experiment to help determine how it was spread. She allowed herself to be bitten by mosquitoes, which were suspected to transmit the disease. She recovered the first time she contracted the disease, but after volunteering a second time she succumbed to the illness. Her sacrifice helped determine how yellow fever was spread. In 1976, the centennial of her birth, Clara was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame and honored on a stamp by the Postal Service.
Expanding Healthcare: Mary Breckinridge
The women who entered healthcare professions vowed to help all people in need. Mary Breckinridge and Virginia Apgar focused their attention on improving prenatal and infant care, ensuring that all babies had a healthy start on life.
From 1925 until her death, Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965) worked to modernize health care in rural America. She found the high maternal death rate in America appalling. The professionalism and skill of European midwives inspired Mary to found the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in Kentucky in 1925. She trained midwives to reach families in rural areas and personally gave nursing care when needed. The FNS has served over 64,000 rural mothers, children and families. For her work, Mary was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Expanding Healthcare: Virginia Apgar
One of the first medical tests every newborn receives is their APGAR score. The test, developed by Virginia Apgar (1909-1974), evaluates a newborns Activity (muscle tone), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex irritability), Appearance (coloration of skin), and Respiration. This simple test allows delivery-room doctors and nurses to determine a newborn’s general condition.
Virginia was one of the first women to graduate from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia College. She began pioneering work in anesthesiology, working at several major hospitals across the country. She became a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University - the first woman to hold full professorship at the university. Virginia was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Medicine from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia.
29c Military Medics stamp (1993-05-31) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Medical support on the battlefield was essential to successful military operations as medics provide emergency treatment to the wounded and evacuate the injured to safer locations. Many women have supported the military during times of war as medics and nurses.
The women who worked as medics during World War II were stationed across Europe, North Africa and the Pacific and supported all branches of the armed services. They endured great hardships, made sacrifices and withstood enemy fire in order to provide needed care and comfort to injured soldiers.
Education: Enriching Lives
Few forms of formal education were available to women during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but more educational opportunities appeared through the efforts of dedicated women. The following women honored on U.S. postage stamps are recognized for their contributions to education.
Mary Lyon (1797- 1849) was a leader in making women’s education accessible and equitable to that available to men. After teaching for more than twenty years, Mary established Wheaton Female Seminary (now Wheaton College) in Norton, Massachusetts in 1834. In 1837, she raised funds to found Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, where she served as president until her death. This school was notably different from other schools of the time, with a developed curriculum in science, mathematics, history, Latin and French. Mary also created an endowment ensuring that tuition would remain accessible for students. Hundreds of her graduates followed Mary’s example, becoming home missionaries and teachers who founded schools throughout the nation.
Education: Enriching Lives
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an educator who inspired many with her social activism. Born in South Carolina to former slaves, Mary valued the education she received and began to give back. In 1904 she founded a school for African American girls in Daytona Beach, which eventually became the Bethune-Cookman College. Mary served as its president for over 40 years, working to ensure a high standard of education and proper funding. She founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935 and served as the vice-president of the NAACP for 15 years. Her work was noticed by President Franklin Roosevelt, to whom she served as a counselor on child welfare and as an advisor regarding issues facing African Americans.
Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan
Helen Keller (1880-1968) suffered from an illness as a small child that left her deaf and blind. Due to her condition, she had difficulty communicating with the world. In 1886, Anne Sullivan (1866-1936) became Helen’s governess and lifelong companion. Anne had suffered from blindness as a child and was able to work with Helen through a language of hand communication. With Anne’s help, Helen showed the world that people with disabilities can lead full, productive lives. Helen graduated from Radcliff College in 1904 and dedicated her life to working on behalf of the disabled and on issues such as gender and racial equality. Together, Anne and Helen worked for the American Foundation for the Blind, serving as advisors and advocates for the rest of their lives.
Frances Elizabeth Willard
Frances Willard (1839-1898) was an inspirational educator, reformer, and suffragist. She graduated from Northwestern Female College in Evanston, Illinois, in 1859. A teacher for 16 years, Frances promoted coeducation and a comprehensive education curriculum. During this time she served as president of Evanston College for Ladies and later as the first female dean of Northwestern University.
After the Civil War, Frances became increasingly involved in social issues. In 1879 she helped found the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and served as president until the end of her life. Frances was a prominent speaker, working tirelessly for women’s suffrage and prohibition. Her work greatly contributed to the passage of the 18th and 19th amendments.
Frances’ goal was to educate others and incite change, urging women to “Do Everything”. She actively supported the kindergarten movement and federally-funded training for teachers. Frances’ accomplishments were acknowledged with a statue in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, the first woman so honored.
37c Barbara McClintock stamp (2005-05-04) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Science: Improving Lives
Several women honored on U.S. postage stamps contributed to the development of science and its goal of understanding and improving life. The research and publications of the following biological and social scientists have improved our understanding of the physical and social worlds in which we live.
Barbara McClintock (1902-1992) pursued genetics research, focusing on maize (corn) genetics, at the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York. Barbara researched the suppression and expression of certain genetic traits from one generation to another and developed theories that linked particular genes to physical traits. Despite resistance from her male colleagues, she persisted with her research, garnering multiple awards. In 1983 Barbara became the first woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Changing Anthropology: Ruth Fulton Benedict
Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) was one of the foremost anthropologists of the 20th century. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1923 and continued to teach there for many years. Ruth studied American Indian culture of the Southwest and wrote Patterns of Culture, an introduction to anthropology. During World War II, the Office of War Information asked her to research European and Asian cultures; Ruth published her subsequent research on Japan in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.
Changing Anthropology: Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead (1901-1978), a student of Ruth Benedict, made anthropology accessible to everyone. After receiving her degree from Columbia University, Margaret studied gender roles, women’s issues, and culture relating to childhood and adolescent development. She served as curator at the New York American Museum of Natural History and was a prolific writer. Her bestseller Coming of Age in Samoa married her interests in Polynesian culture with her study of adolescence. Her work supported the idea that the study of primitive cultures could be influential in analyzing contemporary society. In 1979 Margaret was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rachel Carson’s (1907-1964) love of animals and nature defined her career. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University, she worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, a traditionally male-dominated agency. A prolific writer, Rachel wrote several books on sea life. She entered the national stage in 1962 when she wrote her groundbreaking book, "Silent Spring." Her book sparked a controversy regarding the dangerous effects of pesticides. Rachel testified before Congress and called for improved ecological awareness, helping promote the environmental movement of the late 20th century.
A pioneer in industrial engineering and scientific management, Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878- 1972), in partnership with her husband Frank Gilbreth, developed new practices and ideas to increase labor efficiency and worker satisfaction. They created Gilbreth, Inc. to work in motion studies, a business efficiency technique intended to increase productivity while decreasing worker fatigue. In 1930, Lillian led the President’s Emergency Committee for Unemployment Relief, helping to overcome the Great Depression. She also served as an advisor on motion studies for the disabled. Lillian was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She applied motion studies techniques to home management and is remembered in the famous book (1948) and movie (1950) Cheaper by the Dozen, written by her children.
Professionals and Philanthropists: Enhancing Lives
As entrepreneurial women earned financial and professional recognition, their success encouraged other women to succeed. As the role of women began to extend beyond the home, civic-minded women established organizations to respond to societal needs.
At a time when few opportunities were available to African American women, Sarah Breedlove (later Madame C.J. Walker) (1867-1919) made herself a household name. One evening she dreamt of selling hair products to cure baldness and made her dream a reality. With the help of her husband and daughter, Madam Walker sold her hair products and cosmetics door-to-door. Her business quickly expanded, becoming one of the country’s largest African American-owned businesses. She became the first American female millionaire. The success of her business created opportunities for thousands of black women in beauty shops across the nation. Madam Walker was also a dedicated philanthropist and political activist, supporting education, veteran’s issues, political rights and equal opportunity for African Americans.
3c Moina Michael stamp (1948-11-09)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Philanthropist: Moina Michael
Moina Michael (1869-1944) saw the courage of soldiers fighting in World War I and was determined to honor their dedication. In 1918, she volunteered for the YMCA Overseas War Workers. While there, she was inspired by John McCrae’s poem In Flander’s Field, which described poppies growing in a battlefield cemetery in France. She began to promote the symbol of the poppy in remembrance of those who fought in the war. The poppy was adopted by the American Legion in 1920. With the help of the American Legion Auxiliary, disabled veterans made and sold silk poppies to provide for their relief and rehabilitation. Known as the “poppy lady”, Moina was honored numerous times throughout her life for her efforts on behalf of veterans.
Philanthropists: Lila Wallace
Lila Wallace (1889-1984) and her husband, DeWitt, founded the magazine Reader’s Digest in 1922. The couple mailed two advertisements for subscriptions before their honeymoon in 1921 - by 1935 circulation had surpassed 1 million. With their success, the Wallaces extended great generosity, patronizing the arts, education, and music. In 1972, they were awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for their numerous contributions.
3c Juliette Gordon Low stamp (1948-10-29)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Juliette Gordon Low and the Girl Scouts
Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927) founded the Girl Scouts of U.S.A., an organization that has inspired and taught countless girls for almost a century.
After working as a Girl Guide leader in the United Kingdom, Juliette returned to the United States and formed the first American Girl Guides (later renamed Girl Scouts) troop in 1912. The first troop registered 18 girls; today the organization has over 3.7 million members. Girl Scouts uses a variety of activities to help girls learn skills for the future and to provide service to others. Through their programs they promote confidence, courage and camaraderie among young women and girls. Juliette was deeply committed to the group, always wearing her Girl Scout uniform and recruiting girls wherever she went. Her legacy was honored in 1979 when she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Juliette Gordon Low and the Girl Scouts
This Girls Scouts Issue stamp commemorates the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts of America.
Juliette Gordon Low and the Girl Scouts
The Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts stamp was issued in 1998.
Juliette Gordon Low and the Girl Scouts
The Girl Scouts Achievement Badges single was issued on March 12, 1987.
50c Harriet Quimby stamp (1991-04-27) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Aviators and Athletes: Inspiring Lives
The pioneering women of aviation and athletics possessed adventurous spirits and determination that allowed them to succeed in male-dominated careers. They overcame obstacles and prejudices to set new records and inspire others.
An adventurous, daring woman, Harriet Quimby (1875-1912) was the first female to earn her pilot’s license in 1911. Harriet first became interested in flight when she attended an aviation show in New York. Harriet quickly learned to fly and passed her pilot’s test. Shortly after earning her license, she became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel in 1912. Harriet was also the spokeswoman for Vin Fiz grape soda, and was depicted around the nation in her trademark purple satin flying suit. Harriet was also an accomplished journalist and chronicled her adventures in flight in newspaper articles, allowing readers to join in her daring accomplishments.
Aviatrix: Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman (1896-1926) began her career as a manicurist in Chicago. Thrilled by stories of World War I pilots, she dreamed of learning to fly. At the time, American flight schools would not accept her because she was African American and a woman, so Bessie looked abroad to France to gain her license. In 1921, she became the first African American woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license. “Queen Bess” returned to the U.S. and performed as a stunt pilot in air shows. She refused to enter shows that denied admission to African Americans. Bessie’s dreams of establishing a flight school for African Americans were lost when she died in a plane accident, but her legacy lives on as inspiration for those struggling against adversity.
28c Blanche Stuart Scott stamp (1980-12-30) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Aviatrix: Blanche Stuart Scott
The world continued to be captivated by flight as aviation developed. New limits were constantly tested and records broken. Women participated in these historic milestones, ensuring their place in the history of flight.
Blanche Scott (1885-1970) was adventurous from the start. In 1910, she was the second woman to drive across the United States. This daring spirit soon led her to aviation. During a flight lesson, a gust of wind caught her plane, making it airborne. Although the duration was short, Blanche became the first woman to make a solo flight. She continued her career as a stunt pilot, known as the “Tomboy of the Air.” In 1912 she became the first female test pilot for prototype planes. She retired four years later, tired of working in an industry which offered no positions for women as mechanics or engineers. In 1948, Blanche returned to the air one last time to become the first American woman to fly a jet.
50c Jacqueline Cochran stamp (1993-03-09) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Aviatrix: Jacqueline Cochran
A pioneer aviator, Jacqueline Cochran (1910-1980) was a legendary racing pilot. She began taking flying lessons in 1932 and was a natural, learning to fly in just under three weeks. Jackie started racing two years later. She became the first woman to compete in the prestigious Bendix air race across the U.S. in 1935. Other accomplishments followed: the first woman to win the Bendix, the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic, the first woman to serve as president of the Fédération Internationale Aéronautique, and the first woman to break the sound barrier. She joined the Woman’s Air Force Service Pilots during World War II and trained female pilots. A woman of many ‘firsts’, Jackie held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot in American history.
Aviatrix: Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) is perhaps the most famous female pilot in American history. Among her many ‘firsts,’ her solo flights across the Atlantic and across the North American continent brought her stardom. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress for her transatlantic flight. In addition to her prolific career in flight, Amelia served as a nurse during World War I and as a women’s career counselor at Purdue University. A true feminist, she believed in equal opportunities for women and through her achievements, became an inspiration for girls everywhere. When Amelia mysteriously disappeared during her 1937 attempt to fly around the world, the nation mourned her loss.
Aviatrix: Amelia Earhart
This Boston Commemorative airmail cover was signed by Amelia Earhart, Lou Gordon and W.L. Stultz. Addressed to Amelia Earhart, Boston, MA.
25c Hazel Wightman stamp (1990-07-06) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Athletes: Hazel Wrightman
Few women competed in sports until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Women athletes challenged social norms and stereotypes that women could not compete with men in physical activities. Female athletes such as Wilma Rudolph helped inspire countless women to participate in athletics. This legacy continues today as women compete professionally and as amateurs in virtually every sport.
Hazel Wrightman (1886-1974) led women’s tennis in the early 20th century and was known for her unparalleled sportsmanship. Hazel began playing tennis in 1902, before it was a popular women’s sport. During her long career, she won dozens of titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles competitions, including U.S. championships in all three categories from 1909-1911. She considered among her greatest victories the two gold medals she won in the 1924 Olympic Games. Hazel created the Wightman Cup, an international women’s amateur competition that continues today. Hazel continued to play tennis throughout her life, winning her last national title in doubles at the age of 56.
Athletes: Babe Zaharias
Mildred “Babe” Zaharias (1911-1956) was honored by the Associated Press as the Woman Athlete of the 20th Century in 1999, acknowledging her outstanding ability in golf, basketball, and track and field.
Babe was an All-American basketball player from 1930 to 1932, helping win the national championship in 1931. She participated in the 1932 Amateur Athletic Union championships in track and field, winning six of ten events, thereby winning the title. In the 1932 Olympic Games, Babe won two gold medals and one silver medal in track and field. In 1933, she began her golfing career; during the following 22 years she won 55 tournaments, including three U.S. Women’s Opens.
While Babe continued to break records, she also broke social barriers for women’s sports, becoming a leader in culture as well as sports.
25c Helene Madison stamp (1990-07-06) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Athlete: Helene Madison
Helene Madison (1913-1970) swam to victory three times during the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, setting records in each event - the Olympic record in the 100-meter freestyle and the world record in the 400-meter freestyle. Helene then joined the U.S. team to set another world record in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Over her lifetime, Helene set more than 100 national and world records. She became the only person to ever hold all the U.S. records in women’s freestyle swimming at once. Helene was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992.
23c Wilma Rudolph stamp (2004-07-14) by United States Postal ServiceSmithsonian's National Postal Museum
Athlete: Wilma Rudolph
Despite suffering from a crippled leg as a child, Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) conquered her handicap and rose to greatness. She became a natural athlete, playing basketball until her talents as a track star were discovered. She joined the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team at age 16, winning a bronze medal in the 4x100 relay in the 1956 Olympic Games. In 1960, Wilma became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games. She broke numerous records and was hailed as “the fastest woman in the world”. She was inducted into the Black Athlete’s Hall of Fame in 1974 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.
3c Mothers of America Whistler's mother rotary press stamp (1934-05-02)Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
The American women featured in Women On Stamps: Part 2 showcase the contributions of numerous women to health, science, education, philanthropy, aviation, and athletics. Many of these women were pioneers in their fields providing the opportunity for others to expand upon their successes. The women honored on U.S. postage stamps left a legacy of public service that continues to influence the lives of Americans today.
Women on Stamps: Part 1 introduces a series of four virtual exhibits exploring the accomplishments of pioneering women and early government leaders in America.
Women on Stamps: Part 3 features women who have made significant contributions to the visual arts and literature.
Women on Stamps: Part 4 features women who have made significant contributions to the performing arts.
The four Women on Stamps virtual exhibits are part of a larger effort to focus on diversity within America. To learn more about American diversity, go to the National Postal Museum's Virtual Exhibits page to view virtual exhibits on African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American Indians.
Created by Lauren Golden, Intern, and Christine Mereand, Arago Volunteer Coordinator, National Postal Museum
References used in this exhibit include:
Davis, Anita Price and Louise Hunt. Women on United States Postage Stamps. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2008.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607-1950. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
Sherrow, Victoria. Encyclopedia of Women and Sports. California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1996.
Willard, Frances and Mary Livermore, ed. Great American Women of the 19th Century. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2005.
Women on Stamps. United States Postal Service Publication 512. 2003.
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