Easter Seals

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Easter Seals

Easter seals are small, decorative stamps issued by a charitable organization called the National Easter Seal Society. These stamps have no value as postage but may be used to ornament letters or packages. The Easter Seal Society offers these seals in exchange for donations to its various programs, which furnish a wide variety of services to the disabled.

Edgar Allen, a businessman from Elyria, Ohio, established the parent organization of today's Easter Seal Society. Allen's son died as the result of a streetcar accident which proved fatal due to a lack of adequate medical care. This tragedy spurred him to fight for the construction of a local hospital. After it had been built Allen found himself drawn to a boy brought in for orthopedic care. In following this boy's case Allen learned much about the special needs of children with disabilities. This newfound knowledge inspired Allen, in partnership with the Rotary Clubs, to found the Ohio Society for Crippled Children in 1919. In 1921, Allen started the National Society for Crippled Children in Elyria, Ohio. In 1922 the National Society expanded and formed the International Society for Crippled Children, while maintaining the National Society as a functioning body in the U.S.

The National Society for Crippled Children produced its first decorative stamps in 1934. The Society may have been inspired by the success of the National Tuberculosis Association (later the American Lung Association), which had been raising money with decorative stamps known as "Christmas seals" since 1919. These decorative stamps had no value as postage, but rather offered buyers a pleasing ornament for their letters in return for a small donation. The seals themselves, as they flew across the nation on letters and parcels, advertised the Association and its work. Paul H. King, who became head of the National Society for Crippled Children after Allen, advised that the Society promote their seals at Easter time. King reasoned that "Easter means, of course, resurrection and new life, and certainly the rehabilitation of crippled children means new life and activity - complete or partial - physically, mentally, and spiritually." In this way the decorative stamps became "Easter seals."

The Easter seals project succeeded beyond expectations. It brought in $47,000 in cash, attracted new members, and publicized the organization. The Society decided to continue the triumphant campaign by issuing new seals each year in the early spring. In 1944 the National Society for Crippled Children broadened its sphere of concern, becoming the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults. By the 1950s the Easter seals had become such an established symbol of the Society and its work that people had begun to refer to the organization as the "Easter Seals Society." In 1952 the Society acknowledged the popularity of the seals by adopting a stylized Easter lily as its logo. In 1967, in recognition of the public's response to Easter seals, the Society adopted the words "Easter seal" into its official name, becoming the National Easter Seal Society for Crippled Children and Adults. This lasted until 1977 when the phrase "for crippled children and adults" was removed from the organization's title in response to growing awareness of the negative connotations of the word "crippled."

Today direct mail fund-raising campaigns which include the decorative stamps still provide the Society with an important source of revenue. In spite of the fact that the organization's name contains the word "Easter," the Society maintains no religious affiliation and serves people from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Over one million clients each year benefit from the services provided by the National Easter Seal Society and its local affiliates. These individuals come from all age groups and suffer from all kinds of disabilities, both physical and mental. The Society welcomes clients whose conditions were diagnosed at birth or acquired as a result of accident, disease, or old age. Through its local affiliates the Easter Seal Society offers them medical rehabilitation, job training and employment services, inclusive child care, adult day services, and camping and recreation opportunities.

Further Reading

Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter Garland. 1963. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1999.

Web Site

The National Easter Seal Society web site can be found at:
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
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