COMMEMORATING AMERICAN WOMEN ON COINS
A GLIMPSE OF THE PAST AND FUTURE
The U.S. Mint has created and introduced an American Women Quarters Program that will produce five designs each year from 2022 through 2025, representing women from different backgrounds and fields. The featured woman is portrayed on the coin’s back or reverse side. The front or obverse side displays famous 20th-century artist Laura Gardin Fraser’s stunning 1932 design of George Washington. This visually perfect portrait of Washington was originally rejected by the Mint in a controversial snub in 1932. This will be the common obverse design for this coinage.
The first available quarters honor Maya Angelou, the
Black author and poet whose work was geared toward uplifting people and Dr. Sally
Ride, America’s first woman in space. These are followed by coins featuring Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the
Cherokee Nation; Nina OteroWarren – a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools and Ann May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese-American film star.
Here’s a look back at the history of American women on U.S. coins…
CONCEPTUAL LADY LIBERTY ON EARLY U.S. COINS
Some of the blame for women not being featured earlier on coinage can be linked to George Washington. He turned down a request for his likeness to appear on coins because he associated that with seeing foreign rulers on money, and that concept, to him, was undesirable. For years after, Congress deferred to him and portrayed only classical features and symbols on coins, using a conceptual, composite Ms. Liberty, from the 18th century until 1893, rather than any real person.
FIRST WOMEN TO APPEAR ON U.S. COINS
The very first woman to appear on any U.S. coin was Queen Isabella
of Spain. In 1893, a non-circulating U.S. commemorative silver quarter dollar coin was produced by the Philadelphia Mint for the Chicago World’s Fair. Although this coin has a face value of twenty-five cents (you can spend it as a quarter), it was not designed for general commerce, but, instead, for coin collectors to save.
Some 86 years later, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), the famous American pioneer in the women’s right to vote, was the first woman to appear on circulating U.S. coinage. The Susan B. Anthony dollar was first manufactured for people to spend by the U.S. Mint in 1979. The hope was that the dollar-sized coin (26.5 mm) that featured her, which was a tad larger than the quarter dollar (24.3 mm), would replace the large (38.1 mm) Eisenhower dollar coin (1971-1978). But the coin, larger than a quarter, never was able to replace the dollar bill because the dollar coin was too easily confused with the quarter.
The Sacagawea U.S. dollar (20002008) features an obverse that honors the 16-year-old Lemhi Shoshone woman who aided the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1804 in its exploration of the Louisiana Territory. She is seen holding her infant son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who William
Clark raised and educated. It is a brass-manganese alloy that gives this issue its gold color. The Sacagawea dollar was transitioned in 2009 into the Native American dollar coin program.
GOLD DOLLARS SENT INTO ORBIT
Twelve gold dollars were selected (twenty-seven were melted) to be taken aboard the space shuttle Columbia, where the coins traveled almost 1.8 million miles over four days to commemorate the flight of the first woman U.S. astronaut, Ellen Collins, to command a space flight.
Unfortunately, these coins can’t be seen today because in 2001 they were placed in perpetual storage at the Fort Knox Bullion Depository.
STRIKING HER OWN COIN
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a cofounder of the Special Olympics, is the only woman depicted on a U.S. commemorative coin whose visage appears on the coin and struck her own coin. She pressed the “strike” button at a Denver Mint ceremony. She is seen on the obverse of its 1995 World Games silver dollar.