Women's "Stamp" on American History

By Neufeld, Susan M. | Social Studies Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Women's "Stamp" on American History


Neufeld, Susan M., Social Studies Review


Mary Katherine Goddard, a pioneer during the American Revolution, was well educated for the time period and along with her brother and mother, set up a printing press in Providence, Rhode Island and published the town's first newspaper, when she was only 24 years old. In 1773, she moved to Baltimore and started another local paper, which became one of the best in the colonies, thanks in part to the newly created mail system. Mary Katherine though, aspired to do more, and was disappointed when she was not tapped to become Postmaster General upon the retirement of Benjamin Franklin. She continued to edit the paper single-handedly from 1775 until 1785, during which time she was also named Baltimore postmaster, a position she held until 1789 when the Postmaster General determined that the position needed to be held by a man. She appealed to President George Washington, to no avail. M. K Goddard was an early pioneer in what would become the United States Postal Service (George, 1998)

This is only one example of women who left their "stamp" on the history of the United States. In many small communities across those early colonies, even prior to the Revolutionary War, women served as postmasters, making sure the letters and packages of the time made it to their destinations. Women were frequently appointed to this role in small rural towns, especially during the latter part of the 19th century. The government archives for example lists more than two-dozen women serving as postmasters in Ohio during 1895. These appointments lasted between only a few months to over 30 years, sometimes relying on family connections (National Archives).

Nellie Brimberry was serving as Postmaster in Albany, Georgia when the new courthouse opened in 1912, having been appointed by President Taft upon the death of her husband in 1910. She also has the distinction of being the first woman postmaster of a major American Post Office. For an event in 1911, she inaugurated the first airmail flight and struck the first airmail stamp. She later played an instrumental role in Southern agricultural history by securing privileges for pecan growers to send packages of their product through the mail (Historic Federal Buildings).

Littleton, Colorado had their first woman postmaster appointed in December of 1899. Maud Olmsted was later reappointed for four years in 1902, with an annual salary of $1200 (City of Littleton).

In addition to serving as postmasters, women have placed their stamp on the mail in other ways. The postal service, for more than a century has included women and their achievements on postage stamps, beginning in 1893, when Queen Isabella was honored. Next to be selected was Martha Washington, which began a list of other first ladies and women associated with politics including Frances E. Willis, a diplomat selected in 2006 (USPS, 2003).

Women's rights were first represented with a stamp for Susan B. Anthony in 1936; and American historical figures included Pocahontas (1907), Molly Pitcher (1928). Betsy Ross (1952) and Sacajawea (1954) among others.

Only entertainers rival authors and artists depicted on stamps in number. Authors span from Louisa May Alcott (1940) to Katherine Anne Porter (2006) and include Emily Dickinson, Pearl S. Buck and Margaret Mitchell. Artists include Mary Cassait, Georgia O'Keefe and Jessie Willcox Smith, painters and illustrators who have decorated the scenery of the United States with their talent.

Women aviators and sports participants have also appeared on postage stamps, Amelia Earhart (1963) and Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1981), reminding young women that anything is possible. Recently, Barbara McClintock, a scientist who studied genetics was honored with a stamp. Dr. McClintock previously had been honored with a Nobel Prize in Medicine, the first American woman to win an unshared Nobel (University of Texas at Dallas, 2005).

Women who have impacted the lives of children and families have been selected for postage stamps, including Jane Addams, Clara Barton, Juliette Gordon Lowe and educators, Helen Keller and Mary McLeod Bethune. …

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