The History of the Ribbon The ribbon has been the universal symbol of awareness and support since 1979 when Penney Laingen, wife of one of the men held prisoners during the Iran hostage crisis, decided to use a yellow ribbon to show support for her husband and the other hostages. Its history goes back much further: it is mentioned in five-hundred-year-old poems, in military marches and in folk songs, even in films. But Penney Laingen used it for first time publicly as a silent voice of support. A decade later, the activist art group Visual AIDS turned the ribbon bright red, looped it, spruced it up and sent it onto the national stage during the Tony Awards, pinned to the chest of actor Jeremy Irons. Again, a symbol of awareness and support. Overnight, every charity organisation had to have one. The ubiquity of the symbol was such that even the New York Times declared 1992 “The Year of the Ribbon”.
From peach to pink
Charlotte Hayley, who had battled breast cancer, introduced the concept of a peach coloured breast cancer awareness ribbon. She attached them to cards saying, “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is 1.8 billion US dollars, and only 5 percent goes to cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”
Haley was strictly grassroots, handing the cards out at the local supermarket and writing prominent women, everyone from former First Ladies to Dear Abby. Her message spread by word of mouth. Haley distributed thousands of these cards.
The peach colored ribbon of Hayley aroused interest from Alexandra Penney, editor in chief of Self magazine, who was working on Self magazine‘s 1992 National Breast Cancer Awareness Month issue. She saw the initiative to adapt to Hayley’s idea by working with her. But Hayley rejected the offer saying that Self’s initiative was too commercial.
Unable to use the Hayley’s peach ribbon for legal reasons, Self magazine and other people interested on promoting the breast cancer awareness with a ribbon a symbol decided to go pink.
The first pink ribbons
First on the scene was the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Komen had been handing out bright pink visors to breast cancer survivors running in its Race for the Cure since late 1990. In fall 1991, mere months after Irons’ electrifying appearance, the foundation gave out pink ribbons to every participant in its New York City race. This first use of the ribbon, though, was for Komen just a detail in the larger and more important story of the race. To really break out, the pink ribbon would need a situation in which the ribbon was the event. < p style="text-align: left;">…it is not surprising, given their commitment to breast cancer marketing, that the Susan J. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was the first breast cancer organization to latch on to the idea by distributing pink ribbons to every participant in its New York City Race for the Cure (they also, later, tried unsuccessfully to trademark the ribbon)
Now ribbons are used for many different reasons. Below you will find the most common colors used current and the cause.