YSViewpoint.com series of Women on Stamps (most recent at top)

Madam C.J. Walker 1867-1919

Sarah Breedlove was born to Louisiana sharecroppers in 1867.  It was a hard and impoverished life and at 7 years old both her parents were dead.  Sarah married at 14 and at 20 her husband was dead and she had a 2 year child to support.  Sarah went to St. Louis where she worked as a laundry woman.  She saw how the fashion of the day was causing black women to lose their hair, developed a hair growing product, and sold it door to door.  Soon other products followed that helped black women care for their hair. 

In 1906 Sarah married Charles Walker of Denver and began to market her products under a new name - Madam C.J. Walker.  Madam Walker expanded from a manufacturing plant to include research laboratories, training facilities for salesmen, and beauty schools.  Madam Walker had little formal education but used her wealth to support education for blacks.  In 1918 she died at 52 from kidney failure that resulted from high blood pressure.  Madam C.J. Walker was honored with a U.S. stamp in 1998.


Ida B. Wells 1862-1931

Ida B. Wells was born a slave in Mississippi in 1862 and became free at the age of one.  At 16 both her parents died in a yellow fever epidemic and Ida took charge of her siblings becoming a teacher in a black elementary school.   At 22, Ida B. Wells was forced out of the first class car on a train when she refused to move to the smoking car because she had a first class ticket.  She sued the railroad company and won the case only to see it later reversed.  She began to write for newspapers and in 1892 suffered the loss of three male friends that were killed by a lynch mob while they were in jail as a result of an attack on their store by a white mob.  This and other incidents galvanized her into becoming a leader in the anti-lynching movement where she was respected for her effective use of evidence and solid argument.  She moved to Chicago, married and had children.  She continued to work as a journalist and writer although it was often difficult.  She completed an early autobiography and was working on a second one when she died of kidney failure.


Women who participate in our military were first honored on a US
 stamp in 1952 and again in the 1990s.

On this day, January 24th 2013, it became possible for women to
 officially be in a combat role in the military.

We should be thankful for all the women who have volunteered for
 military service and performed with honor.


Lillian Moller Gilbreth  1878-1972

Lillian Moller grew up in a large family in Oakland California.  She earned a college degree in English Literature and married Frank Gilbreth in 1904.  Their marriage was very close: the two were business partners and co-authored 4 books together.  Lillian and Frank had twelve children and chronicled the large family's life in Cheaper by the Dozen (1948).  This humorous book was made into movies in 1950 and in 2003.

Lillian completed a Master's degree and then a Ph.D (the first one given in Industrial Psychology) at Brown Univ.  In a unique partnership with Frank she brought the human element into industrial management on par with the technical aspects.  She was a pioneer female in the engineering field and was the 1st woman elected to the National Acad. of Engineering and the 2nd woman accepted into the American Soc. of Mechanical Engineers.  She received some 23 honorary degrees and had 29 grandchildren.  A US stamp in her honor was issued in 1984.


Virginia Apgar 1909 - 1974

Virginia Apgar graduated from medical school in New York in 1933.  She did a surgery residency training program in order to become a surgeon.  Yet she was encouraged to go into a different field because previous women surgeons had not been successful (likely due to prejudice against them). 

She switched to anesthesia, a developing field at the time, and after a year of training she became the director of anesthesia at Columbia Univ.  Over the next ten years anesthesia became a recognized medical specialty and Virginia became the first woman to be a Full Professor at Columbia.  Although Virginia worked successfully for the prevention of birth defects in newborns she is most remembered for developing the Apgar Score, a method of numerical scoring to rapidly determine the state of a newborn's health.  Her new method was resisted at first but time proved it's worth and the Apgar score is now used worldwide.

She never married or had children but instead gave of herself to all children.  Among many honors and awards Virginia received the National Women's Hall of Fame Award in 1995 and a US stamp in her honor in 1994.




Clara Maas  1876-1901

Clara Maas was the oldest of ten children born in New Jersey to German immigrant parents.  At 19 she graduated from nursing school in Newark and soon became the head nurse at Newark German Hospital.  Clara volunteered to serve the US Army during the Spanish American War.  For several months she cared for soldiers ill with typhoid, malaria, dengue and yellow fever.  Discharged she volunteered again and was sent to the Philippines where she caught dengue fever and was sent home.

In 1900 at 24 years old Clara went to Cuba to assist the US Army Yellow Fever Commission.  The participants in research were told that they might die as a result, the  first recorded informed consent in the world of medical research.  Clara allowed a mosquito that had fed on yellow fever patients to bite her, she became ill and recovered.  Just four months later Clara permitted a second infected mosquito bite (researchers thought that she would be immune to yellow fever due to her previous illness).  Sadly Clara became ill with yellow fever 4 days after the bite and she died 6 days later.  Experiments on humans were halted for a time after her death.  Cuba honored Clara with a stamp in 1951 and the US honored her on a stamp in 1976.



Hattie McDaniel 1895-1952

Hattie McDaniel was the youngest of thirteen children born to her parents (former slaves).  Two of her siblings worked as entertainers and through her brother Hattie was able to sing on the radio - the first black woman to do so.  Next she began to have small roles in movies as a maid or cook.  She hit the bigtime in the role of Queenie in the 1936 movie Showboat.  In the 1939 movie  Gone with the Wind Hattie played Mammy who was Scarlett's slave and maid.  Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for this role, the first African American to win an Oscar.

All of the black cast members were barred from the Atlanta premiere of Gone With the Wind and did not appear in the souvenir program and at the award ceremony Hattie McDaniel and her escort were seated at a segregated table for two away from the rest of the cast.  Hattie later had her own radio show Beulah and she also acted in the TV show of the same name.  Hattie faced heavy criticism for acting in roles which stereotyped African Americans as servants.   In 2006 Hattie McDaniel was honored with a US stamp that shows her in the dress she wore to receive her Academy Award.


Willa Cather 1873-1947

Born in Virginia, Willa moved with her family to Nebraska at a young age, only 15 years or so after Nebraska became a state.  As a young woman, Willa rebelled against the expected conduct for women.  For a brief time in college she wore her hair short, donned men's clothes and signed her name William.  She also had strong opinions and didn't shy away from expressing them.  After graduating from the University of Nebraska (where she found some that valued her uniqueness), Willa  left the prairie soon after.  For years Willa was a journalist, for the Pittsburgh Leader and then McClure's magazine where she eventually became an associate editor.  Yet in 1912 Willa resigned from this position and began writing novels fulltime.

The author of O' Pioneers, My AntoniaSong of the Lark and others, Cather wrote about life on the prairie as she remembered it.  Several of her novels are now considered American classics and have been made into movies as well.  Willa never married and all her close relationships were with women.  However this was commonly done during her lifetime and so does not indicate whether Cather was a gay woman.  Willa Cather was the first woman to be awarded an honorary degree from Princeton University and she was honored with a stamp in 1973.


Barbara Jordan 1936-1996

Barbara Jordan was born in Texas and graduated as an honor student from high school.  Segregation prevented her from attending the Univ. of Texas Austin and so she went to Texas Southern Univ. instead.  Barbara was a champion debater in college with wins over Yale and Brown and a tie with Harvard.  She graduated from college in 1956 with Magna Cum Laude honors and next graduated from law school 1959.

Barbara failed in bids for the Texas House of Representatives in 1962 and 1964 before winning a seat in 1966.  In 1972 Barbara was elected to the US House of Representatives - both the first African American and the first woman to do so from Texas.  Multiple sclerosis began to plague her in 1973 and in 1979 she retired from politics and reentered teaching.

Barbara's partner of some 30 years was Nancy Earl however it remains unconfirmed whether this was a gay partnership or not.  Among her many honors, Barbara was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and a US stamp in 2011.



Blanche Stuart Scott 1885-1970

Blanche was by all reports an adventurous young woman.  Her father bought a car when they first  became available and Blanche drove it around in Rochester (before any age limits).  In 1910 at the age of 25 Blanche drove from New York to San Francisco with another young woman - it took them 2 months.  Also in this year Blanche made her debut as a professional airplane pilot , the first woman to fly a public exhibition.

Nicknamed the 'Tomboy of the Air', Blanche performed stunts and spectacular death dives.  Next she became a test pilot but retired in 1916 no longer comfortable with the public's fascination with crashes and with an industry that didn't allow women mechanics or engineers.  Later on in life she worked for the US Air Force Museum.  Blanche was honored with an airmail stamp in 1980.


  Dr. Mary Walker 1832 - 1919

Mary Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego NY.  Her father was a country doctor and Mary followed in his footsteps and graduated from Syracuse Medical College at the age of 21.  A year later she married another doctor and they began a practice together but patients were slow to arrive.  The marriage ended and Mary tried to join the Union Army when the Civil War began but was rejected.  Undaunted she volunteered as a surgeon in 1861 and later was appointed as Assistant Surgeon in 1862.  She spent years working near the front lines of major battles (Bull Run, Chickamauga, and Atlanta) and then was captured and imprisoned in 1864.  Released after 4 months in an exchange of doctors she returned to the service.

In 1865 she was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for meritorius service, the first woman to be so honored.  Yet in 1917 the medal was taken away because of new requirements for actual combat with an enemy.  Dr. Walker refused to return the medal and wore it everyday until she died at 87 in 1919.  Her medal was reinstated in 1977 and she was honored with a US stamp in 1982.


   Babe Zaharias 1911-1956

Born in Texas as Mildred Ella Didrikson, Babe excelled in track and field and basketball in high school.  At 21 she won Olympic Gold medals in 1932 for the 80m hurdles and the javelin and Silver in the high jump. She next played on the Babe Didrikson All Americans a traveling basketball team, then pitched briefly in spring training for two major league baseball teams, and then played for the House of David traveling baseball team (a men's team). 

After discovering golf, this sport became her source of the most fame.  She won 41 LPGA tournaments and qualified for and made the cut at 3 PGA tournaments.  However in 1948 she attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open but was rejected by the USGA because the tournament was intended for men.  Only 5'7" tall Babe was an amazing athlete by any standard.  There is a film  based on her life, Babe and she also wrote an autobiography, This Life I've Lived.


Nellie Bly 1864 - 1922

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in the Pittsburgh area she landed a job at the Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper after writing a letter to the editor that was mistakenly thought to have been written by a man.  It was here that she took a pen name based on the title of a Stephen Foster song.  Unhappy working on the 'women's pages' she went to Mexico at the age of 21 to report on the lives of the Mexican people.  She next moved to New York City at 23 and pretended to be insane in order to get committed to the insane asylum and report on conditions there.  It worked and she was only released after 10 days at the request of The World, the newspaper that had sent her in.  Her reporting on conditions inside caused many improvements and also made the intake examination more stringent to exclude those who were sane. 

 Her next jaunt was to travel, largely unchaperoned, around the world in less time than the man in Jules Verne's book Around the World in 89 Days.  She made it - 24,899 miles in 72 days, a world record.  She had conventional beauty to help her yet there must have been much more inside her to make this trip a success.  At 31 she married an iron manufacturer 40 years her senior and they did not have any children.  She continued as a manufacturer for a time after her husband's death and held patents for a unique milk can and a stacking garbage can.  Some think that she invented the modern steel drum but this is disputed.  Nelli Bly died at the age of 58 and was honored with a stamp in 2002.


Anna J. Heywood Cooper

1858 - 1964

Anna J. Heywood was born a slave and was thought to be the child of the white slaveowner himself.  After the Civil War a young Anna went to school to become a teacher of other freed slaves.  An excellent student, she fought for the right to take the courses restricted to men and showed that she could keep up.  Here at school she met and married George Cooper however he died when Anna was just 21.  With the usual role of wife and mother closed to her, she continued as a teacher, author and scholar and graduated from Oberlin College in 1884.

Anna was a strong advocate for black women to participate in higher education.  At 56 she began a Ph.D. program at Columbia University but had to interrupt a year later when she adopted the orphaned five children of her half brother.  Anna found a way to transfer her credits to the University of Paris-Sorbonne however she was required to produce a new dissertation which took her about ten years.  In 1924 she was awarded a Ph.D. and became the fourth African American woman to achieve this distinction.

Anna lived to be 105 and was a pillar of the Washington-D.C. black community.  She was honored with a stamp in 2009.




Jane Addams  1860-1935

Jane Addams was born to a life of wealth as the daughter of an Illinois businessman and politician.  She was among the first generation of women to attend college and found herself unable to meld her own dreams with those of her family after graduation.  She even developed nervous illness likely as a result of this disharmony.  Around 1890 Jane Addams founded the Hull House in Chicago, the first of many settlement houses that worked to help women and poor immigrants.  Jane argued that the environment was more to blame than heredity for the difficulties of overcoming poverty and her genius was to enlist people of all classes in the effort to improve the environment for the poor.  At the age of 59 she founded the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom during World War I and in 1931 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


Lucy Stone  1818 -1893

Lucy Stone became a teacher in order to support herself.  She saved her earnings and at 25 enrolled in Oberlin College in Ohio.  This college was at the time the only college that would accept women and black students.  Even so, Lucy found that she could enroll in debate classes but was not allowed to debate in public in any way.  She and another woman student found ways to debate each other in private however.  Later Lucy Stone became a salaried speaker for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.  Lucy Stone is credited as being one of the very best speakers on either anti-slavery or on women's rights and along with Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony for working towards women's rights.

previous women on U.S.stamps

Susan B. Anthony  1820-1906

Susan B. Anthony was born to a Quaker father and non-Quaker mother in New York.  She was well educated having private tutors and attending boarding school.  At 15 she began teaching to help her family's straightened circumstances.  She taught for 13 years and despite an active social life she chose not to marry.  She reached the highest position for a female at her academy and was frustrated that the headmaster was paid so much more than she was.  She returned to her family and became heavily involved in both the abolition fight and the fight for women's rights.

It is due in large part to Susan B. Anthony in partnership with Elizabeth Stanton that New York became the first state to give women legal control over their inherited property in 1848.  The women kept working and in 1860 New York finally gave married women full control over their earned wages (formerly the wages were legally the property of the husband).  Susan lived to be 86 and her efforts were a big part of the reason women received the rights listed above and others as well.  Although she fought for the vote to be given to women Susan did not live to see this happen.  Susan B. Anthony was shown on a high value stamp about 1955 (only Patrick Henry and Alexander Hamilton were higher in stamp cost) and in 1979 she was the first U.S. woman to be featured on a coin.














Marian Anderson  1897-1993

Marian Anderson was a nationally famous contralto singer born in Philadelphia in 1897.  She sang in her church as a youth and after high school tried to apply to the Philadelphia Music Academy.  She was refused even the opportunity to apply to this all white music school but with the help of friends found other ways to study music.  Her concert career in the United States did not take off due to racial prejudice and she went to Europe in the 1930s to tour to much acclaim.  Returning for concerts in the US at the end of the 1930s she was refused permission to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington DC by the Daughter's of the American Revolution.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for an alternative concert at the Lincoln Memorial that drew 75,000 fans and a radio audience of many more.  Many American women resigned from the DAR after this incident of bigotry.  Marian Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 for her activism for civil rights in the US and abroad.


Bessie Coleman 1892 -1926

Bessie Coleman was the first black female pilot and the first African American to achieve an International Pilot License.  She lived in hard times as a youngster and yet distinguished herself in school particularly in math.  She was working as a manicurist in Chicago and dreamed of becoming a pilot.  No US flight schools would teach her, not even the male black aviators in the US.  In 1920 she went to France in pursuit of her dream to be a pilot and succeeded.  She returned from France and became a sensation as a barnstorming aerial artist known as 'Queen Bess'.  Tragically she died a few years later at the age of 34 in a plane crash in which it was later found that a wrench had slid into a gear box and jammed it.

Bessie Coleman was honored on a US postage stamp in 1995.


Edith Wharton 1862-1937

Edith Wharton was born into the upper social class in 1862.  She married at 23 and began her writing career at 40.  She wrote novels about the social class she knew so much about and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for The Age of Innocence in 1921. My favorite is The House of Mirth in which the place(s) of women in the 19th century is laid out with clarity and detail. 


Harriet Tubman 1820-1913

Harriet Tubman was a nurse, spy and scout during the time of the Civil War.   Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross but was called Harriet by her owner in Maryland.  She escaped on her own in 1848 when she was threatened with separation from her husband John Tubman.  Later she traveled into parts of the south where slavery was still going on to bring out some 300 slaves into freedom in the north.  She must have been very brave to do this when it put her life at risk.  She also spied for the Union Army.    Harriet Tubman lived to be 93.  She was an amazing woman and it was fitting to honor her with a stamp in 1977.



Frances E. Willard 1839-1898

Frances Willard was a teacher who then became President of Evanston College for Ladies and next moved on to become an activist for women's rights and prohibition.  She was involved in the creation of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and rose through the ranks to become the national president in 1879.  She linked prohibition with bettering other aspects of women's lives and she succeeded in many improvements.  She never married and lived in long term relationships with women only.  Perhaps she was gay but it isn't known for sure. Her appearance on a postal stamp in 1940 was a tribute to her political ability and the many advances she helped to 'birth' for women and society.



Louisa May Alcott 1832-1888

Louisa May Alcott was honored with being on a U.S. stamp in about 1935-40.  She was a single woman who lived in the time of the Civil War and was both an abolitionist and a feminist.  Poverty caused her to take on many jobs such as seamstress and governess but it was as a writer that she was able to make enough money to support herself and some of her relatives.  She wrote some 25 or more books, from sensational 'romances' under the pen name of A.M. Barnard to famous children's books such as Little Women and Little Men.  My favorite is her autobiography Work. 



Martha Washington was the first woman to be on a US stamp.  Although she was the wife of the first US president she didn't appear on a stamp until many years later in the 1920s.  It is fascinating that Martha is shown as an older woman on the stamp even though she was a renowned  beauty and there are younger portraits also. 

Older women were rare in Martha's time because of the extreme demands of childbirth and raising children.  Martha had two children by her first husband when she was very young and then no more.  Also Martha was a wealthy woman and owned slaves.  These facts gave her better nutrition and less toil and contributed to her longer life.

It is deeply disappointing that the wife of our first president was a slave owner and she brought George Washington into this situation as well.  There is no doubt that her wealth and that of other slave owners helped in the beginning of the young nation.  Can good come from bad?  We must keep trying.