In May of 2018, the United States Postal Service issued a Forever postage stamp featuring Sally Ride. Earlier in 2018, a Forever postage stamp had been issued featuring Lena Horne. The first U.S. postage stamp featuring a woman was issued in 1893, as part of the first seven commemorative stamps printed for the Columbian Exposition. Interestingly, one of those seven stamps pictured Queen Isabella of Spain. The first U.S. woman to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp was Martha Washington; that eight-cent stamp was issued in 1902. Since the early twentieth century, a number of American women have been featured on U.S. postage stamps. Let’s learn about a few of them.
By 1847 when she became the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree, Lucy Stone had already determined some significant tenets as to how she would conduct her life. Dismayed by the subjugation of women that she observed firsthand in her family and in society in general including lower pay for the same work, Stone vowed she would not marry, she would obtain the highest education she could, and she would become economically self-sufficient by earning her own livelihood. She became a vocal advocate for abolition and women’s rights. She lectured across the country and she wrote as well. She did marry – and what was quite a shock at that time – she became famous for not taking her husband’s last name. Her daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, became a leader in the suffrage movement. Stone has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1968.
Ida B. Wells (also known as Ida B. Wells-Barnett) was a slave who was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. She moved from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee in search of higher-paying employment. There she served as a teacher and she co-owned a newspaper. Writing about lynching in her newspaper led to the destruction of its presses by a white mob and her need to relocate. The Red Record, a pamphlet that she authored, significantly influenced the national debate on lynching. Wells remained active in the civil rights movement after moving to Chicago and after her marriage. She was one of the founders of the National American Association of Colored People, today the NAACP. In 1893, she founded The Women’s Era Club, a civic organization for African-American women and was also active in the women’s suffrage movement. Wells has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1990.
Often credited as helping to keep the Lewis and Clark Expedition from being viewed as hostile, Sacagawea and her young son accompanied the expedition in 1805-1806. Her calmness when one of their boats capsized and her subsequent rescue of many important papers lives on through the records of the expedition. Sacagawea served as interpreter for the group and her knowledge of plants and herbs along the route are viewed as crucial. Many monuments and natural features are named for her and she was featured on a dollar coin issued by the U.S. Treasury in 2000. Sacagawea has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1994.
The most popular Latin artist of the twentieth century, Celia Cruz was born in Cuba. Her family wanted her to become teacher but she was encouraged by one of her teachers to become an entertainer instead – in order to earn more money. In 1947, she was a frequent contestant (and contest winner) on the radio in Havana. In 1948, Cruz made her first album in Venezuela. In 1950, one of the biggest bands in Cuba needed to replace its lead singer and Cruz was selected. She soon became more famous than the band! The band was in Mexico when Fidel Castro assumed control of Cuba and the band members did not return. Cruz and her husband became U.S. citizens and she continued her career, performing around the world. A recipient of the National Medal of the Arts and the winner of Grammy awards, she has been inducted into the Latin Music Hall of Fame and the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. Cruz was featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 2011.
Born in Beijing, Joyce Chen and her family settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts where, in 1958, she opened the “Joyce Chen Restaurant”. Chen pioneered the Chinese buffet “all you can eat” dinners on the slow nights of Tuesday and Wednesday nights to boost business. Another innovation she pioneered: to allow customers to be able to communicate with the primarily Chinese-speaking staff, she introduced numbered menu items. Through her restaurants, Mandarin food was introduced to the U.S. and she is credited as a popularizer of Chinese food. Her second restaurant “The Joyce Chen Small Eating Place” was opened in 1967 where she introduced dim sum to the eating public. Chen began teaching Chinese cooking in 1960 and published her first cookbook in 1962. She began her television show, Joyce Chen Cooks, in 1967, aired on PBS and filmed at WGBH in Boston using the same set as Julia Child used. Chen sold a line of cooking utensils and holds a patent on the flat-bottomed wok with a handle (a stir fry pan). Her legacy lives on through her company Joyce Chen Foods. She was featured as one of the five “Celebrity Chefs” on a U.S. postage stamp in 2014.
Women contribute to our lives in so many ways. U.S. postage stamps have been issued featuring women to recognize those contributions. The women profiled above and many other women, almost all of them women we have not heard about nor learned about in school, across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories and write women back into history!
Jill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer. After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide. She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman). She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners. The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.
Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.