Christmas seals story
One stormy December night in 1903 a postman named Einar Holboell was working late in a post office on the outskirts of Copenhagen. He was sorting great piles of Christmas mail.
As he moved around among the mailbags he paused to look out the window. Just at that moment two little waifs, a ragged little girl and boy appeared. He saw them only for a moment before they disappeared in the swirling snow.
Einar Holboell went back to the stacks of letters and parcels with a sad heart. The contrast between the expressions of good will slipping through his fingers and the forsaken looking children troubled him.
Suddenly he had an idea. Perhaps one of the letters gave it to him. Just suppose that every letter or parcel carried an extra stamp, and the money from the tens of thousands of such stamps went to help unfortunate children. What a blessing it would be!
Being a postman he realized what large sums of money could be donated without it costing anyone very much.
Many ideas which seem splendid late at night do not seem as bright in the morning. However, even in the cold light of the next morning the postman thought his idea good enough to tell his fellow workers about it.
They were enthusiastic. At first they wondered if they could try it that year. A little calculation convinced them that there was not time to get a design, get seals printed and, most important of all, get the scheme well explained to the public who would be buying the seals. They determined however that they would work out all the details and be ready in plenty of time in 1904.
When the Christmas rush was over the postmen started planning in earnest. When they had the details worked out they went to the king and outlined their scheme.
King Christian IX was fired with enthusiasm and added a suggestion of his own - that the first issue of seals would have Queen Louise's picture as a sign that he and his wife fully endorsed the idea. As they were both very popular with their people this was a great help.
So Christmas of 1904 the seals went on sale and the campaign was even more successful than the postmen had hoped. The Danes bought four million of the stickers. At that time when drives for funds were almost unheard of this was a triumph.
The question then arose of how the money should be used. Which unfortunate children should be helped? It was decided that the children in most distress were the hundreds, even perhaps thousands, who were crippled by tuberculosis.
With funds from the first two Christmas Seal campaigns they started building two hospitals for treatment of tuberculous children. This was a turning point in the world history of this disease because it was the beginning of the movement to get ordinary citizens to take part in fighting an infectious disease, one which at that time was the leading cause of death, outstripping even wars and famines.
Denmark's neighbours, Norway and Sweden were the first to see what a great power the people would be and the very next year they offered Christmas Seals to their people, pointing out how in this way anyone could help, not only doctors and nurses. To their delight they found that Norwegians and Swedes were also ready to take this way of fighting tuberculosis.
Then in 1907 the idea crossed the Atlantic. A little sanatorium down on the Brandywine River in Delaware was about to close for lack of $300, sending the patients, all of whom were infectious, out among others where they would spread their disease. The idea horrified the doctors and one of them, Joseph P. Wales, appealed to his cousin Emily Bissell to try and think of some way to raise $300.
Miss Bissell thought of something. She thought of a magazine article sent to her a while before by Jacob Riis, a Danish American, telling about how the Danish people had begun to fight tuberculosis by buying stickers to decorate their Christmas letters and parcels. Miss Bissell decided she would see if Americans would buy Christmas seals to keep the little sanatorium from closing.
An artist friend helped her to design a seal - a simple wreath of holly in the brightest red the printer could find. Two interested women gave her $20 each toward the cost and a friendly printer, Charles Storey, agreed to go ahead and trust that the rest of the cost would be forthcoming.
Not everyone was so encouraging. Officials who could have helped said they did not like linking Christmas to a horrible disease. Postal authorities would not let postmen sell seals as they did in the Scandinavian countries.
The campaign went so slowly that it was plain the $300 needed was not going to be collected in time to keep the hospital from closing.
Miss Bissell decided to try something else. She went to Philadelphia and appealed to the news editor of a large daily newspaper, the North American. The news editor refused to have anything to do with the idea. The crusader was going away completely discouraged but she stopped to tell a young columnist, Leigh Mitchell Hodges, how much she enjoyed his column, The Optimist.
Finding that Miss Bissell was from Wilmington, Mr. Hodges asked what had brought her to Philadelphia. Hesitantly, because she had received so many rebuffs, Miss Bissell drew a sheet of seals from her purse and told the story of what she had hoped for the little sanatorium.
The young columnist studied them for a moment then sprang to his feet. "Wait, I'll be back," he said, and rushed to the managing editor's office.
Tossing the sheets of seals on the editor's desk he shouted "Here's a way to wipe out tuberculosis."
"What do you mean?" his employer, E. A. Van Valkenburg, asked.
"Just look at them - a penny apiece - within everyone's reach - think how they'll carry the news of what people can do for themselves - what a slogan, 'Stamp out tuberculosis!"
When the whole story was told Mr. Van Valkenburg said "Tell Miss Bissell the North American is hers for the holidays. You drop everything else and put all your time on this. And get 50,000 here. We'll sell them for her on the street floor."
The first day the seals went on sale at the North American a little newsboy, too small to see over the counter came in and reaching up with a penny said, "Gimme one. Me sister's got it" - and the North American knew that the people of the United States, like those of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, would buy seals to fight TB.
By the next Christmas the news of the Danes campaign had reached Canada. Interested people in Toronto and Hamilton embarked on Christmas Seal campaigns for the sake of struggling hospitals being built for TB patients.
The old Toronto Globe came promptly to their aid. Early in December it began running a daily story on the front page giving news of the campaign. The column was bordered by holly so that readers could easily spot it.
One day the story told how the children of 58 Toronto schools had sold 10,000 Christmas Seals. Another issue announced that out on the prairies a new paper, the Regina Leader, had written to say its staff would sell the seals and send the money back for the sanatorium being built at Muskoka. From Saint John, N.B. the Rev. G. A. Moore wrote to say that he and other volunteers would sell 8,500 and send the money to Toronto for the sanatorium.
At another time the Globe told how a little girl at Elmira, Viola Morrison, had sent in 25¢ - a lot of money for a little girl in those days. She could have bought a pretty little doll or a big bag of candy.
So it went. The Toronto campaign brought in $6,114.25 and Hamilton citizens gave $1,244.40.
Year by year other cities across Canada tried the Christmas Seal campaign as a means no only of raising money but of creating the awareness that tuberculosis could be controlled. Finally, in 1927, it was agreed that the Christmas Seal campaign was to be the official method for tuberculosis associations to appeal to the public for funds.
At first the money was used for the new and badly needed sanatoria. When these were established it became the rule that Christmas Seal funds were used for TB prevention. The seals have paid for millions of Canadians to have chest X-ray or tuberculin tests and in this way thousands of cases have been found before disease spread to others.
Though tuberculosis is not the threat to life and health it was 50 years ago there are still about 3,000 cases a year in Canada, so this is no time to quit. In the meantime other diseases of the lungs, though not infectious, have increased enormously. Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma, bring misery and loss of earning power to thousands of Canadians.
Recognizing the significance of the rapidly increasing respiratory disease problem, the Canadian Tuberculosis Association in 1960 expanded its program to include the whole field of respiratory illness. At the same time, a medical section called the Canadian Thoracic Society was founded, consisting of a group of physicians especially interested in the field of chest medicine. There are now branches in seven provinces.
With a newly expanded program and new goals, the Association plunged into the wide field of lung diseases, setting up educational programs for both professional and lay personnel; it created training programs and directed funds into research.
To establish its official responsibility in the respiratory disease field, the Canadian Tuberculosis Association changed its name to the Canadian Tuberculosis and Respiratory Disease Association in 1968. Later in September, 1977, the name was changed to the Canadian Lung Association. Thus the message expanded to include breathing and all the things that make breathing difficult for so many - lung disease, air pollution and cigarette smoking.
Christmas Seal funds are now used for research into ways and means of preventing and treating these diseases. Funds are also used for the operation of community programs. It is hoped that the Christmas Seals will be as powerful an instrument against all lung diseases as they have been against tuberculosis.