Linn's Stamp News: July 12, 2004

Textbook study on how to get a postal card

Washington Watch, by Bill McAllister

Donna J. Albino of East Bridgewater, Mass., is a loyal graudate of Mount Holyoke College and a voracious collector of historical postcards.

So when she read in Linn's June 7 issue that the United States Postal Service's long-running Historic Preserivation series of postal cards has ignored the Seven Sisters - the nation's most prestigious women's colleges - Albino decided to change that.

[Mary Lyon]
Figure 1. Mount Holyoke founder Mary Lyon was pictured on this 2c Great Americans stamp issued in 1987. The author says that the stamp could hurt the chances of the school to get a postal card issued in its honor as one of the Seven Sisters.

Her school was founded in 1837, the first of the Seven Sisters, and the oldest continuing institution of higher education for women in the United States.

It should also be the first of the seven to have a postal card, Albino said.

But just how does one go about getting a U.S. postal card approved, she asked.

The formal process is the same as asking for a stamp. Since 50,000 requests for stamps are received by the Postal Service each year, Albino should first know that she faces an uphill battle.

The odds for getting a card might be slightly better, if only because almost everyone who applies to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee wants a stamp.

Officially, the CSAC says: "Requests for commemoration of universities and other institutions of higher education shall be considered only for stamped cards and only in connection with the 200th anniversaries of their founding."

That should delay any Mount Holyoke request to 2037, but exceptions to the rule have been made.

Winning a stamp or postal card is big business in Washington. Lobbyists are known to work for years and to charge big fees for helping groups wage stamp battles with the Postal Service.

So what's a good-natured, but poorly funded stamp advocate to do?

[Mary Lyon Hall]
Figure 2. This view of Mary Lyon Hall at Mount Holyoke College is from the collection of Donna Albino, a Mount Holyoke graduate who asked the author how one goes about getting a U.S. postal card issued. The college is one of the Seven Sisters, the nation's most presigious women's schools, none of which has been recognized by a postal card. In this column, Bill McAllister shares his extensive experience in such matters.

Having watched the stamp lobbying business for more than 15 years, I'd advise Albino, a software engineer, to begin by getting the Mount Holyoke administration on board.

First, the advocate and the school should agree on a building that would lend itself to being depicted on a postal card.

Mount Holyoke has at least two distinctive buildings: Mary Lyon Hall with hits distinctive tower and Williston Memorial Library with an Italian-inspired atrium. If the buildings have a significant anniversary, that can be a peg.

Next, Albino needs to enlist her fellow graduates, students and faculty. They should tell the CSAC why the building and the school should be honored. The messages should include a reminder that none of the Seven Sisters has been honored - a point that is likely to score points with the politically sensitive Postal Service.

It helps to enlist the support of members of Congress and political leaders who have ties to the college. Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is a Mount Holyoke graduate, and her endorsement wouldn't hurt.

Better yet would be to find a member of Congress who sits on one of the committees overseeing the Postal Service, or a member of the Postal Service board of governors who has a tie to the college. These are the people who have clout when it comes to getting stamps.

Actually, the most innovative lobbying scheme I ever encountered was one created by Dr. L. Joseph Butterfield of Children's Hospital in Denver ... and his goal was to honor a Mount Holyoke graduate, Dr. Virginia Apgar.

A physician, Apgar had created the Apgar Score, a method that delivery-room doctors and nurses use to determine quickly a newly-born child's health. As famous as Apgar was around the world, it took years for the American Academy of Pediatrics to convince U.S. postal officials she deserved a stamp.

The culmination of that effort was Butterfield's decision to trace down teh Texas pediatrician who had cared for the children of CSAC chairwoman Virginia Noelke. Who could say no to her own family pediatrician?

He also found the doctor who cared for the children of Richard "Digger" Phelps, a CSAC member and a television sports commentator.

It worked. "We just pecked away at knowing people who knew people," Butterfield said.

That campaign took more than a decade. Butterfield tapped politically savvy people, including his local representative, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., who was a senior member of the House committee overseeing the Postal Service. In 1994, Apgar got a 20c stamp in the Great Americans series.

Mount Holyoke could turn to Sen. Susan Collins, R.-Maine. She's the chairwoman of the Senate Govermental Affairs Committee, which oversees postal issues.

Unfortunately, she's a 1975 magna cum laude graduate of St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., a school that is not one of the Seven Sisters. But all the women in the Senate are sensitive to women's issues, and I suspect most would support an effort to give one of the Seven Sisters a postal card.

There is yet another problem. While Mount Holyoke has never had a card, in a way it has had a stamp.

In 1987, Mount Holyoke founder Mary Lyon was honored on a 2c stamp in the Great Americans series, issued on the 150th anniversary of the college.

Oh yes, Albino's card collection? She has placed her postal cards on line at

If the CSAC wants a historic view of the college, she can give them more than 1,000 different views.

The 2c Mary Lyon stamp and a postcard view of Mary Lyon Hall at Mount Holyoke are shown with this column in Figures 1 and 2.