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Women on Stamps: Sending a Message to America

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 25, 1999 – Millions of women have put their stamp on America. The nation has put some of them on its postage stamps to honor their achievements and service.

Women's past contributions paved the way for today's women to follow and give hope for the future, personnel psychologist Annette Baisden wrote in her DoD pamphlet "Women: Putting Our Stamp on America" for the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. The pamphlet title comes from the theme of this year's observance of National Women's History Month.

Under the subtitle, "Military Nurses Stamping Out Suffering and Disease," Baisden said military nurses were the forerunners of today's women in the military.

In 1982, the Postal Service issued a stamp with the likeness of Civil War Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to date to hold the Medal of Honor. "During the Civil War Mary Walker became a nurse because she was denied acceptance as a military physician," Baisden said. "She later received a commission as an assistant surgeon and became the first woman doctor in the military."

Stamps have also been issued with pictures of Phoebe Yates Levy Pember (1995), a matron at Chimboratzo, a Confederate army hospital, and Clara Louise Maass (1976), one of the first military contract nurses.

A 1983 stamp honored Dorothea Dix, the first woman appointed to a federal administration position -- superintendent of Union Army nurses during the Civil War.

In 1978, the Postal Service issued a stamp on a postcard depicting "Molly Pitcher" loading a cannon at the Battle of Monmouth during the Revolution. Mary Hays McCauly had earned her nickname earlier as a battlefield water carrier. When her husband fell wounded at his cannon at Monmouth, she took his place. Gen. George Washington issued her a warrant as a noncommissioned officer, and she became known as "Sergeant Molly."

"Stamps tell the story of women who didn't need a stamp of approval to stamp out inequalities, injustices, stereotypes and suffering," Baisden said. "By telling their stories, describing trends they shaped, offering examples of women pioneers, activist and ordinary women who transformed the world we live in, we encourage our followers to explore and take risks, to succeed and transform."

The first U.S. commemorative stamps were issued in Chicago in 1893 for the 400th anniversary celebration of Columbus' discovery of the New World. Several of the Columbian series featured the royal Spanish court and Queen Isabella, who financed Columbus' adventure into the unknown, according to Baisden.

Martha Washington, the nation's first first lady, became the first American woman honored on a stamp in 1902. Stamps with her portrait were also issued in 1923 and 1938.

Pocahontas was the third woman and first Native American to be pictured on a stamp, issued in 1907 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Va. The heroine of the Capt. John Smith legend is virtually unrecognizable as either a woman or an Indian. The stamp is based on her only known likeness, a portrait of her as a member of high society when she lived in England as the wife of Virginia tobacco dealer John Rolfe.

The Postal Service issued a "Women in Our Armed Services" stamp in 1952 featuring pictures of women in uniform from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

On Oct. 18, 1997, the Postal Service issued the "Women in Military Service" postage stamp at the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the gateway of Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery. The 37 million stamps printed featured uniformed women of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.

The women portrayed on stamps "are paid this special tribute for a unique accomplishment, an historic achievement, or a contribution worthy of worldwide recognition," according to a U.S. Postal Service press release.

Images on stamps are selected by the U.S. Postal Service and members of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. Eighty-five stamps featuring women can be found on the World Wide Web at www.usps.gov/fr_stamps.html. [link no longer available] Click on "Women on Stamps."

Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Publications are now on the Web at www.pafb.af.mil/deomi/deomi.htm.

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