Emily Bissell & Christmas Seals

In 1907, tuberculosis Sanatoriums were springing up around the country but most were makeshift and could only care for a few patients at a time. One of them, a small shack on the banks of the Brandywine River in Delaware, was in desperate financial straits. Joseph Wales, one of the doctors serving the hospital thought his cousin Emily Bissell might be able to raise some much needed money. She was a volunteer in Wilmington and had lots of fund-raising experience. Emily was anxious to help, but convincing others to contribute wasn't going to be easy. So many people felt that TB was a death sentence and a hopeless cause. Then she remembered a magazine article she had read about how money for the care of needy children with TB was successfully raised in Denmark, far across the ocean.

The article was written by a famous journalist and social worker of Danish-American birth, Jacob Riis. Six of Jacob's brothers had died from TB. So when he learned that his native country had come up with a way to raise money to fight the disease, Riis had a personal reason to suggest that the method be tried in America. Riis suggested the sale of small seals, during the Christmas season, to raise funds for fighting TB.

Emily thought the idea of seals was terrific. ”Why not create one to raise money for the shack?" she asked herself. She sat down and sketched a design -- a cross centered in a half-wreath of holly above the words "Merry Christmas." The seals were sold for a penny each.   
Emily BissellEmily started her own one-woman campaign to publicize the seals and how donating money to the cause for them would help fight the battle against TB. Finally, on December 7, 1907, the first seals were sold at a table in the corridor of the Wilmington post office. The campaign had raised over $3,000.

In later years--throughout the 1920s and 1930s and well into the 1940s -- Emily Bissell continued to be active as a leader of the Christmas Seals Campaign.  She appeared with U.S. Presidents and other public figures, enlisting their support for Christmas Seals®. The American Lung Association salutes Emily Bissell and millions of women like her across the country.