Born May 31, 1861, Miss Bissell was a daughter of A. C. and Mary Josephine Wales Bissell. She was educated in Wilmington schools and the Charlier School, New York City.
In her early life she carried an interest in writing into the professional field, and at various times was a member of the Outlook, Harper’s Bazaar, and Youth’s Companion. It was much later during her self-imposed task of reading everything printed in the Outlook that she ran upon the idea of a special Christmas stamp to fight tuberculosis – just at the time she has been asked to raise funds for that work in Delaware. Miss Bissell first entered the social work which was to bring her national and international prominence in 1889 when she organized the West End Reading Room in Wilmington. Her record of “firsts” is extensive; she was the first person to think of starting immigrants on the road to becoming Americans, and launched the Americanization program in Wilmington in 1913.
The West End Reading Room was the first of its kind in Delaware. In conjunction with this she established the first free kindergarten and playground in the state, the first better babies contest, the first boy’s brigade – forerunner of Boy Scouts – and the first free gymnasium for boys.
She was instrumental in the passage of the first child labor law here, and was one of the first child labor commissioners. She was one of the organizers of the Children’s Bureau, on whose Board she served for many years. She was the first president of the Consumer’s League, and aided in establishing the first Delaware chapter of the American Red Cross in 1904, of which group she was the secretary for many years.
She is a former director of the Associated Charities, and the former chairman of social services for the Federation of Women’s Clubs. It was in 1907 that she was asked to raise $300, to carry on the fight against tuberculosis in Delaware. The story of her first seal design, the belief of many that the idea would fail, and its immediate success and consequent growth, is by now familiar to all. She was made president of the Delaware Anti-Tuberculosis Society, a post she held for the rest of her life. Other organizations with which she was affiliated are the Colonial Dames, the Colonial Governors, the Family Society, and the commission appointed to decorate the State House in Dover. Many of her poems have been published, one group of which was compiled into book form under the title “Happiness”. The proceeds from the sale of the book were given to the Anti-Tuberculosis Society. In the course of her life, and especially in the last two decades, may honors have come to Miss Bissell. Among these are: Her selection in 1939 as “Woman of the Week” on the nation-wide General Electric broadcast; recognition by the National Tuberculosis Society, the American Women’s Association, the award of the Trudeau Medal in 1942 for her contribution to the fight against tuberculosis, and others. In 1936, on the 30th anniversary of the Christmas Seal Sale, Miss Bissell was honored buy America and foreign nations at an impressive ceremony in Wilmington. Tribute was paid to her by dozens of nations, and she was awarded the medal of honor by the International Committee for the Defense Against Tuberculosis of France. At another ceremony in 1945, Miss Bissell was honored by the naming of the main building at the Brandywine Sanatorium as the Emily P. Bissell Building.