In 2022, the United States Mint began producing a series of quarters with portraits of influential American women throughout history as part of the new American Women Quarters program.
Five women are selected each year for the tail designs of new quarters, and the program will run until 2025. The new series marks the end of minting for the previous “America the Beautiful” set which featured scenes from national parks and historic sites.
The figures selected for the 2022 quarter set were Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong. Angelou was a prominent author and civil rights activist, and Dr. Ride was the first American woman to go to space.
Mankiller was an indigenous activist and the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation, while Otero-Warren was a suffragist, the first woman superintendent of Santa Fe public schools, and the first Hispanic woman to run for Congress.
Wong was the first Chinese-American movie star in the United States and starred in dozens of popular movies throughout the 1920s and 30s. The designs were sculpted by Emily Damstra, Phebe Hemphill, Benjamin Sowards, Craig Campbell and John McGraw respectively.
The figures for the 2023 coins include Bessie Coleman, Edith Kanaka’ole, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jovita Idár and Maria Tallchief. Bessie Coleman was the first Black woman in the United States to get a pilot license, and Edith Kanaka’ole was a composer and choreographer of traditional Hawaiian music and dance.
Eleanor Roosevelt advocated for civil rights for racial minorities and women as first lady, while Jovita Idár advocated for equality for these groups and supported the Mexican Revolution through journalism.
Finally, Maria Tallchief was an extremely accomplished ballet dancer and member of the Osage Nation who helped to popularize the art in the United States.
The series highlights the contributions of women who found success and went on to inspire millions of others in a time when gender and racial inequality prevented many from taking similar paths.
The series also shows how art can be used to send a social message. While, historically, the important figures represented on U.S. coins and paper money have mostly been men, this new line of quarters breaks the pattern and says that the U.S. is proud of the ways women from every background have helped America grow.
The face side of the new quarters will also feature a new right-facing design of George Washington, sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser in 1931. Fraser also designed Alabama’s Centennial Half Dollar in 1921, making her the first woman to design a U.S. coin.
Having women represented on our currency is only a small step in the ongoing fight for gender equality, and the U.S. government deserves criticism for its modern day failures to protect women’s rights.
While the government publicly honoring the contributions of women to the country is well-deserved and overdue, the program is also an inoffensive way to create the appearance of equality without taking steps to protect women’s rights in ways that really matter.
However, even with possible competing motives, the program is a step in the right direction, and I am excited to see these influential historical women on our quarters in the next few years.