The United States Mint on Monday launched its American Women Quarters Program, a four-year initiative to honor the work and accomplishments of various American women by placing their images on new quarters being launched from 2022 to 2025.
To mark the program's start, the Mint released quarters bearing the likeness of writer, performer and activist Maya Angelou. Best known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou is depicted on the coin with her arms outstretched in front of a rising sun and a bird in flight.
"Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country - what we value, and how we've progressed as a society. I'm very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America's most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou," said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
"Maya Angelou ... used words to inspire and uplift," Mint Deputy Director Ventris Gibson said.
U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program artist Emily Damstra created the design, while the Mint's Medallic artist Craig A. Campbell sculpted it. According to the press release, the artists were inspired by Angelou's poetry and the way she led her life.
The quarter bearing Angelou's likeness is one of five new coins being released this year, each featuring the image of a prominent woman who has contributed to a variety of professions and institutions.
The Dr. Sally Ride Quarter is the second coin in the American Women Quarters™ Program. Dr. Sally Ride was a physicist, astronaut, educator, and the first American woman to soar into space. (Credit: The United States Mint)
Additional honorees include Sally Ride. The physicist and educator made history on June 18, 1983, when she entered space on the shuttle Challenger, following NASA's policy change to allow women in space in the late 1970s.
When the Challenger exploded in 1986, she was one of the top investigators examining the incident.
The Mint originally announced Angelou and Ride as the program's first honorees in April 2021. They later revealed three additional honorees last June: Wilma Mankiller, Adelina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong.
Mankiller was the first woman elected as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. She had dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of Indigenous people in the U.S. Her quarter depicts her dressed in traditional clothing alongside the Cherokee Nation seven-pointed star.
Otero-Warren was the first woman superintendent of Santa Fe public schools and a top leader of New Mexico's suffrage movement, leading efforts to ratify the 19th Amendment in the state. The amendment gives American women the right to vote. Otero-Warren's coin shows her image with the slogan, "Voto para la mujer," meaning "Vote for Women."
The first Chinese film star in Hollywood, Wong appeared in more than 60 movies. She was cast in her first leading role in 1922 in the film, The Toll of the Sea. Despite her talent and fame, Wong faced significant discrimination in the U.S., which led her to leave the U.S. after working in the industry for many years.
Wong was also known for her activism, as she raised money and advocated for Chinese refugees during World War II. She also became the first Asian American cast as the lead in a television show with her role in the 1951 program, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.
For each year of the program, five new quarters will be created. By 2025, 20 women will grace the faces of U.S. quarters.
The Mint's Gibson said it was her honor to present the "nation's first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history," according to the press release.
"Each 2022 quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments being celebrated throughout this historic coin program," Gibson said.
The quarters, manufactured at the Mint facilities in Philadelphia and Denver, will now be shipped across the country, according to the press release.
The American Women Quarters program is authorized by the Circulating Coin Redesign Act of 2020, which was initiated by California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee.
According to reporting by nonprofit newsroom The 19th, Lee had been working on this legislation since 2017 and was motivated to honor women through a medium that has traditionally recognized men.
"I wanted to make sure that women would be honored, and their images and names be lifted up on our coins. I mean, it's outrageous that we haven't," Lee said. "Hopefully the public really delves into who these women were, because these women have made such a contribution to our country in so many ways."