The origin of the Christmas Seals drive and a special campaign in Marshfield
By Kris Leonhardt
In the early 1900s, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States. Though the causing bacteria had been discovered years prior, treatment at that time consisted only of rest, proper nutrition, and pure air. This type of treatment was often found inside the walls of a sanatorium.
In 1907 one such sanatorium in Delaware had fallen on tough times while providing treatment to those afflicted with the deadly disease. Calling upon a concept developed by the Danish, the head of the Red Cross set out to raise revenue to save the facility.
After printing a collection of holiday stamps, a group of volunteers sold the stamps at the local post office for a penny each. The stamps sold quickly and raised many times the amount required to save the sanatorium.
The holiday stamp campaign took off, spreading throughout the United States, and the Christmas Seals drive had begun. The Red Cross partnered with the Anti-Tuberculosis Association — now the American Lung Association — to sell the stamps throughout the holiday season.
As research and treatment of lung disease and cancer increased, so did the need for fundraising. Enlisting the help of grade school and high school children, the campaign grew to meet the rising needs of the country.
Students were encouraged to take as many as they thought they could sell and return with funds to match. City and rural children alike went from door-to-door selling the seals, siblings racing to be the first one to sell to their neighbors.
The 1914 sale brought about one big change as half of the money earned went back into the community where the seals were sold. Armed with sheets of seals displaying Santa Claus in red, white, and green, a legion of Marshfield students descended upon city and country on Thanksgiving Day championing the power of the penny.
Local businesses such as Sexton’s Drug Store, The Palms, Rose Brothers Company, The Fair Store, and William Noll Hardware Company put up prizes for the top sellers.
Just days before Christmas, high school student Helen Heaton was declared the first prize winner, selling 2,250 seals alone from Marshfield’s total of 10,400.
The Anti-Tuberculosis Association/American Lung Association would later become sole administrator of the Christmas Seals fundraiser and continue its collaboration with local schools for multiple generations.
The Christmas Seals campaign continues today, focused on raising awareness of lung disease, though its association with schools has dissolved.