As some of you know, the epic January rains flooded my basement which lead to a “fun” cleanup project. One of the actual fun things was finding some things that I hadn’t seen in years, including my design notebook from the very first Women’s History Month Banner Project in 1996. I had to get out the calculator, that was twenty-seven years ago!
At the time I was serving on the Women’s Advisory Council. We were struggling to find something to highlight famous women in history and I had recently seen light pole banners (they were newish at that time) and suggested we make our own banners. We had a time crunch, only 45 days until March 1. I have been a philatelist ever since I inherited my great-grandfather’s small stamp collection as a child and knew that the U.S. Post Office had issued dozens of stamps celebrating famous women. I wondered if we could use those images—we had no time or budget to create our own art. We put in a call to our local post master and somehow got them to let us use the stamp images and then quickly found a wonderful graphic artist to implement our design. Of course, it had to be purple, white and yellow (the colors of the Suffrage Movement) and in barely a month we had produced and installed eighteen banners!
It was the first time ever that the Post Office had done such a project. And they went one better, especially for us philatelists, they issued a cancellation cover of the most recent stamp, Bessie Coleman, African American aviation pioneer. They printed a special envelope with an image her stamp and that of Amelia Erhart, affixed Bessie’s stamp and then created a special cancellation for the day—note the date Leap Day 1996.
While my original dream of having purple Women’s History Month banners the length of Route 66 to the pier in Santa Monica has not yet happened, each year in March I love seeing the new banners and all the beautiful women down the boulevard. This year Nadia Sutton joins the pantheon along with Ruth Williams. I may be wrong, but I believe Nadia even served on the Council that very year this project started. I looked for a list of 1996 Council Members but had no luck.
I don’t have pictures of all of the original banners but I do have the original stamp list we used for the banners. Those, along with the original press releases, make for an interesting time capsule. It was a fun project that I am glad has continued. Maybe the next team will take up the baton and run it on down to the pier.