Historic Stamp Still Important Today

December 8th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

The end of December will mark the 50th anniversary of the United States Postal Service's (USPS) issuing of the now iconic Nursing postage stamp. This stamp has served many as a symbol of nursing's continued growth as a profession and relevance in the world of healthcare.

There is a nursing influence in areas most of us wouldn't give a second thought—like philately, the study o f stamps. There are 25 million stamp collectors in the United States and over 200 million worldwide and many of them are nurses who collect stamps with nurses on them. From Great Britain, to Cuba, to the Netherlands nurses have graced many an envelope. In fact, the US has produced fewer postal stamps commemorating nurses than many other countries, which is what makes this stamp so much more interesting.

In a joint presentation at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing (UTHSC SON) this week, Dorothy Otto,Ed.D., RN (stamp collector), Adrian Melissinos, Ph.D., RN (historian) and Mary Martha Stinnett, former chair of the UTHSC SON PARTNERS program, which provides nursing scholarships and faculty research grants, celebrated the 1961 issuance of the nursing stamp.

With the stamp as her example, Melissinos, addressed the process of historical research. She explained following the trail of the stamp's creation using historic methodology like archive and library searches, uncovering documents and letters, and using museum resources.

It seems there is a group named the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee that decides who gets a likeness on a postal stamp. In a 1947 issue of the American Journal of Nursing Melissinos found her first calling for the stamp in a letter to the editor. By 1957, individuals and organizations all over the country were supporting its development to the national committee. There was even a drive aimed at writing congressmen to gain support for the stamp.

The stamp's issuance in 1961 commemorated the 100th anniversary of nurse training in this country, for it was in 1861 that the Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia opened as the first chartered school for nursing. The stamp features a nursing student lighting a candle. It is a common practice for nursing student to light a candle during their pinning ceremony as a symbol of the "passing of the flame" from Florence Nightingale to each new nurse.

Invitations to the unveiling went to the elite in nursing across the country including the head officers of the American Nurses Association, the National League of Nurses, the American Medical Association and the National Student Nurses Association to name a few.

The USPS ran 100,000 of the stamps at the first printing, but the demand was so great they had to issue another 25 million. What makes this event even more important than a single stamp is the cooperation achieved between professional nurses and nursing organizations and how they garnered public support for this historic four cent postage stamp.

The stamp itself is very much a keepsake and a collectable for many, but its image is also used to represent nursing in other realms as well. At UTHSC SON the stamp is used as the logo for their PARTNERS program. PARTNERS was formed in 1994 and through its fund raising events and gifts the group has awarded 86 full-tuition scholarships and funded four endowed professorships at the nursing school.

So, while it may appear old fashioned (note the nurse's cap and pinafore) and its four cent value won't get a letter anywhere, this simple sticky bit of paper has become a national symbol of a profession that continues to grow and develop and is more relevant today than ever.

One Response to “Historic Stamp Still Important Today”

  1. Heather MacArthur Wilcox Says:

    Jennifer,

    I just discovered your article yesterday(9/18/12) after returning from my 50th Nursing School reunion. In 1961 When I was a student nurse a photographer came to the school and photographed me wearing a uniform that belonged to the school’s founder. I was told it was to serve as a model for the 4 cent stamp. I still have a copy of 2 of the photos. The nurse on the stamp is in fact wearing our school cap.

    Several classmates at the reunion made comments to me about the stamp and remembering the event.

    I would be very interested in any information you found in your historical search of the stamp.
    I don’t know if this will reach you or not. I was a much better nurse than computer person. Email is my most advanced skill. Blogs, twitter,etc are a foreign language to me.

    Thank you,
    Heather
    GSH, Class of 1962

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