The American Women Quarters Program has chosen the first women that will be depicted on the American quarter. In January 2022, poet and Civil Rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou and astronaut Dr. Sally Ride’s faces were featured on the reverse side of circulating quarters. In February 2023, it was announced that Latin music artist Celia Cruz would become the first Afro-Latina person to appear on a US quarter.
Between 2022 and 2025, the American Women Quarters Program will highlight up to 20 different groundbreaking women in American history.
American Women and American Currency
Maya Angelou and Sally Ride are only the fourth and fifth women featured on American currency. Female figures, including Lady Liberty, Lady Justice, and the fictional goddess Columbia have been featured on American currency in the past. However, these figures are representative of certain American ideals rather than historical women.
In 1979, the United States Mint introduced the Susan B. Anthony $1 coin to honor Anthony’s involvement in the women’s rights movement. This coin marked the first time a portrait of a real woman was featured on U.S. currency.
The Treasury Department hoped that the Susan B. Anthony $1 coin would replace the $1 bill, but it was commonly mixed up with the American quarter and quickly fell out of circulation.
The Sacagawea dollar
In 2000, the United States Mint introduced the Sacagawea dollar as a replacement for the Susan B. Anthony dollar. The coin depicted the face of Sacagawea, who was a member of the Shoshone tribe and a guide of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, carrying her infant son Jean-Baptiste on her back.
Large corporations such as Walmart and Cheerios heavily marketed this coin, but it never gained any major popularity with the American public.
Helen Keller quarter
In 2003, Alabama issued its state quarter depicting Helen Keller. This coin was part of the 50 State Quarters Program, which was a commemorative program featuring unique designs specific to each American state. The Alabama quarter depicts an image of Alabama native Helen Keller with her name in English and in a reduced-sized version in Braille.
These three women — Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and Helen Keller — are the only women to be featured on legal U.S. currency. The United States Mint, which is responsible for producing all coinage in America, was set up in 1792.
California Representative Barbara Lee, who has been working on the legislation for the American Women Quarters Program since 2017, told The 19th News that she is excited to see more women featured on American currency: “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.”
The American Women Quarters Program
On January 13, 2021, the president signed the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020. This bill impacts essentially every circulating coinage denomination, from penny to dollar, over the next nine years.
The first stage involves prominent women to be featured on the quarter but will eventually include images of American Independence featured on the penny, dime, quarter, half-dollar, and dollar in 2026. In 2027, the quarter and half-dollar will feature the portraits of George Washington and John F. Kennedy.
The American Women Quarters Program is the first part of the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020. It is a four-year program that looks to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of the United States.
Up to five new designs per year
Between 2022 to 2025, the United States Mint will issue up to five new reverse (tails) designs each year. This means that up to 20 different American women will be featured on quarters in the United States in the next five years. The quarters’ obverse (heads) side will feature a new design of George Washington.
The United States Mint is looking for American women from a wide spectrum of fields, including suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. However, the law requires that no living woman be featured in the coin designs.
The American Woman Quarters Program hopes that the public will become involved and get excited about the selection process. Lee thinks that this program is “a good organizing tool that communities should use, and have children kind of tell stories and do their research and come up with who they think the women submitted should be.”
Maya Angelou and Sally Ride
Maya Angelou and Dr. Sally Ride were chosen as the first women to be featured on the American quarter. In January 2022, quarters featuring their faces entered into circulation throughout the United States.
Dr. Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014) was best known as an author, poet, and Civil Rights Activist. She is the author of more than 30 books and has received more than 50 honorary degrees. Her highly influential 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings became a national bestseller and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970. During the 1960s, she worked with both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
In 1993, Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. In doing so, Angelou became just the second poet in history to read a poem at a presidential inauguration, and the first African American and woman to do so. Her audio recording of the poem ended up winning a 1993 Grammy Award for the Best Spoken Word category. She passed away on May 28, 2014, at age 86.
Dr. Sally Ride (May 26, 1951–July 23, 2012) was the first American woman to fly in space. Her first mission was on the Challenger shuttle in June 1983 at age 32, making her the youngest American in space. She also flew on the Challenger’s second mission in 1984. Dr. Sally Ride later became the only person to sit on both panels investigating the 1986 Challenger explosion and the 2003 Columbia crash.
In 1987, Ride retired from NASA and became a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego, and the director of the California Space Institute, also located at the University of California. In 2001, she started her own company called Sally Ride Science to create educational resources and programs and to inspire girls and young women to pursue their interests in science and math.
Sally Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Maya Angelou and Sally Ride both posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Anna May Wong
Known as Hollywood’s first Chinese American movie star, Anna May Wong fought for better representation for Asians on screen. She broke into Hollywood during the silent film era of the early 20th century, despite her struggle to land roles in a time when white actors were donning makeup and clothing to play Asian parts. She was also consistently paid far less than her white counterparts such as Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford.
Wong overcame this discrimination and had a four-decade career in film, radio, and theater, starring in 60 films during her lifetime. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, the year before she died of a heart attack at the young age of 56.
The coin’s designer, Emily Damstra, issued a statement about the new quarter. “Many prominent actors from the 1920s and 1930s saw their name framed by lightbulbs on movie theater marquees, so I thought it made sense to feature Anna May Wong in this way,” Damstra said. “Along with the hard work, determination, and skill Anna May Wong brought to the profession of acting, I think it was her face and expressive gestures that really captivated movie audiences, so I included these elements next to her name.”
In February 2023, it was announced that Celia Cruz, one of the 20th century’s most treasured Latin music artists, would become the first Afro-Latina person to appear on a US quarter. Cruz, who became known as the ‘Queen of Salsa,’ released 23 gold albums during her career, as well as four Latin Grammy Awards, three Grammys, a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Grammys, and the President’s National Medal of Arts. She was born in Havana in 1925 and died in 2003 in New Jersey.
Cruz and four other honorees are the 2024 additions to the American Women Quarters Program. Designs for these quarters will be unveiled in mid-2023.
In a statement, US Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson said, “All of the women being honored have lived remarkable and multi-faceted lives, and have made a significant impact on our Nation in their own unique way.”