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Stamps of Approval | The University of Chicago Magazine

The USPS stamp honoring Katharine Graham, AB’38, was unveiled in the Library of Congress’ James Madison Building on June 14, 2022. (All images courtesy of the US Postal Service)

Joining the former UChicagoans, Katharine Graham, AB’38, receives an honor that will remain.

What costs 84 cents, can go coast to coast (plus Alaska and Hawaii), and celebrates a major US publisher?

The new Distinguished Americans stamp honoring Katharine Graham, AB’38, of course. In June, the United States Postal Service unveiled the timeless two-ounce stamp recognizing the Washington Post publisher and president of the Washington Post Company – the 17th person to honor the Distinguished Americans stamp series since its introduction in 2000.

Graham led the newspaper, published by the family business, for nearly three decades, taking over after the death of her husband, Phil Graham, in 1963. During her tenure, she faced challenges, seized opportunities and transformed the newspaper – and, at times, the American political landscape.

Risking legal danger, Graham released the Pentagon Papers. She chaired the Jobhistorical investigative reporting on the Watergate scandal and navigated complex labor disputes. By the time she stepped down as chairman of the board in 1993, the paper had become, under her leadership, “a journalistic powerhouse that rivaled the New York Times of national repute,” this publication wrote in 2016 (see “Storyed Publisher”) — a noteworthy achievement.

Read on to learn about some of the other UChicagoans with postage icon status and how they rose to the heights of the top right corner.

Ernest E. Just, PhD 1916

Issued in 1996, the stamp honoring Just is part of the USPS’ Black Heritage series. He just earned his UChicago Ph.D. while on leave as head of zoology at Howard University. He spent many summers with UChicago Professor Frank Lillie, PhD 1894, at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and his research on marine animals led to key insights into the physiology of cell development. Just was the first recipient of the NAACP’s Springarn Medal and is the namesake of the Biological Sciences Division’s annual EE Just Conference.

Postage stamps honoring Lewis Hine

Lewis Hine, EX 1904

The sociologist Hine is best known for his photographs of children working in factories and living in need. These photos helped raise public awareness (and later horror) of child labor, a first step towards legal reform (see “Working Bodies”). Hine’s images of industrial workers and immigrants are also celebrated. A devoted chronicler of poverty in the United States, Hine was himself destitute at the end of his life. His reputation grew again after his death, and his images are featured in three series of USPS stamps: Masters of American Photography (2002), with the work of 19 other artists; Made in America: Building a Nation (2013), in which Hine’s images appeared on 11 of 12 stamps; and Celebrate the Century: 1910s (1998), with an image depicting child labor reform.

Postage stamp honoring Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham, PhD’36

On National Dance Day in 2012, the USPS released the Innovative Choreographers series of stamps honoring Dunham alongside fellow dance legends Isadora Duncan, José Limón, and Bob Fosse. Dunham’s career in dance was deeply influenced by her studies in anthropology at UChicago (see “Grace Notes”). The resulting inventive work took her to Broadway and Hollywood, notably in Stormy weather (1943), one of the first films to come out of the studio system with an all-black cast. The Dunham technique continues to be taught nearly two decades after his death.

Postage stamp honoring Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi

In a photo taken in a UChicago classroom, physics teacher Enrico Fermi stands in front of a blackboard, chalk in hand, notebook in pocket, a funky expression on his face. It’s 1948 and the Nobel Prize has returned from Los Alamos, New Mexico to Chicago. This photo served as the basis for this illustrated stamp, adorned with a carbon atom in the lower left corner, honoring the central figure in carrying out the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The USPS issued the stamp on September 29, 2001, the centennial of Fermi’s birth.

Postage stamp honoring Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson, AB 1908, AM 1908

Born to former slaves, Woodson worked in the coal mines of West Virginia as a young man before graduating from Berea College in Kentucky, then earning a second bachelor’s and master’s degree at UChicago. Known as the father of black history, Woodson emphasized its importance and convinced Americans of it. The Black History Month we celebrate today began with Black History Week, established in 1926 by the Woodson Association for the Study of Black Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). He was recognized in 1984 with a stamp in the Black Heritage series.

Postage stamp honoring Maria Goeppert Mayer

Marie Goeppert Mayer

When Goeppert Mayer received a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, she became the second woman to win the honor, the first in 60 years and one of four ever awarded. Goeppert Mayer worked briefly on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos before moving to Chicago in 1946. While employed by the University’s Institute for Nuclear Studies and by Argonne National Laboratory, she developed the model of nuclear shell structure that his Nobel Prize recognized. The Goeppert Mayer stamp was issued in 2011 as part of the American Scientists series.

Postage stamp honoring Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble, SB 1910, PhD 1917

Hubble was a galactic figure in more ways than one. He did nothing less than introduce cosmology, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics Don YorkPhD’71, told the Magazine in 2013 (see Hubble theorized that the universe is expanding (it is) and that there are more galaxies than ours (there are). His contributions inspired NASA to put his name on the Hubble Space Telescope, which has its own set of five stamps. The 41-cent Edwin Hubble stamp in the American Scientists series shows his portrait and longtime workplace, the Mount Wilson Observatory, under a starry Milky Way sky.

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