Making Present, Making Absent Exploring Medical Fundraising Imagery Through the National Tuberculosis Association Christmas Seals

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Erin Nicole Gangstad


In 1907, the National Tuberculosis Association (NTA) began selling Christmas Seals to raise money for the fight against tuberculosis (TB). The decorative holiday stamps quickly became a hallmark of American popular culture throughout much of the 1900s. This project asks how the Christmas Seals, sold between 1920 and 1968, shaped the depiction, imaginary, and understanding of tuberculosis in popular culture. Through visual, rhetorical analysis of the Seals’ presented and suggested elements, I show that the Seals make present normalized images of Whiteness, health, and holiday settings. I argue that the Seals presented elements made absent images of tuberculosis, distancing an invoked, White audience from the realities of the disease and playing on their hope and desire for a world free of TB. This case study considers the rhetorical function and value of popular, non-­medical expert images, adds to the historical literature on tuberculosis, and offers a framework for the continued study of medical fundraising images.

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