If you haven’t heard already, the United States Mint is making new quarters. In fact, they’re shipping quite soon, and they’ll be shipping more through 2022 and 2025 as a part of the American Women Quarters Program. Between 2022 and 2025 five new designs for the quarter will be issued, with the first five having already been announced. The first new quarter will feature Maya Angelou–who will also be the first Black woman to appear on the American quarter. You’ve probably seen the headlines that Maya Angelou will appear on the quarter soon already, but maybe you haven’t heard about the other women who will make their appearance on the quarter. So who is going to be on the new quarters?
You might be wondering which side of the coin is getting replaced–the heads or tails side? Well it turns out you don’t have to wonder anymore, because it’s actually required by law to have George Washington’s likeness on the quarter.
Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
Maya Angelou was a poet, author, and civil rights activist; perhaps best known for her series of seven autobiographies. She has also won Grammys for spoken word poetry, worked on plays, film/television, and even two cookbooks. She served on two presidential committees (under Ford and Carter), and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Obama in 2010. Angelou was active during the American Civil Rights Movement, working alongside both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She put together the Organization of Afro-American Unity with Malcolm X in 1965.
Perhaps one of the most well-known pieces of Angelou’s legacy is her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). Up to this point, Black writers in America were so marginalized they were unable to present themselves as the central characters in literature they wrote–even if they were writing about themselves. Scholars like Hilton Als have noted that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings one of the first times a Black author wrote about “blackness from the inside, without apology or defense.” Her writing in the autobiographical space has routinely challenged conceived notions about the genre, and not only allowed for expansion in how autobiographies are written, but also served as the vanguard Black women writers.
Sally Ride (1951-2012)
If you know anything about space, you should recognize Dr. Sally Ride as both first American woman (and third woman globally) and known LGBT person (she will also be the first LGBT individual to appear on American currency) who has traveled to space–having done so in 1983. She left NASA after flying twice on the Challenger, and was a member of the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. This makes her the only person who served on both committees. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Obama.
Dr. Ride had been publicly reticent about her personal life, and was reluctant to attach her name to a memoir or film. She did start Sally Ride Science in 2001, a company that aims to close the gender gap in STEM.
Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010)
Wilma Mankiller (ᎠᏥᎳᏍᎩ ᎠᏍᎦᏯᏗᎯ) was the first woman to be Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, elected in 1987 and re-elected by a landslide again four years later (she served three terms in total). During her tenure she is known for tripling her tribe’s enrollment; doubling employment; and constructing new housing, health centers, and children’s programs in Oklahoma. Her surname refers to a traditional military rank in the Cherokee language. Mankiller was a visiting professor at Dartmouth College and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 by former President Clinton. She also held 14 honorary doctorate degrees.
As Chief, Mankiller spearheaded the Government-to-Government relationship the Cherokee Nation now shares with the American government.
Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren (1881-1965)
Otero-Warren was a suffragist, educator, and American politician–she was the first Hispanic woman to run for Congress in 1922. She ran as a Republican candidate for New Mexico for the House of Representatives. As an educator, Otero-Warren was the first woman to serve as superintendent of public schools in Santa Fe (from 1917-1929), working to advance bicultural education and the preservation of cultural practices of Hispanic and Native American communities in New Mexico.
In the fight for women’s suffrage, she was at the forefront of the lobbying effort to ratify the 19th Amendment in New Mexico. She was elected vice-chair of New Mexico’s branch of the Congressional Union in 1916, which would become the National Women’s Party.
Anna May Wong (1905-1961)
Wong Liu-tsong (黄柳霜) was known professionally as Anna May Wong, and is considered the first Chinese American star in Hollywood–as well as the first Chinese American actress who gained international attention. Her acting career began from an early age; she was active in silent film, sound film, television, onstage, and even on the radio. Landing her first leading role in The Toll of the Sea (1922), Wong quickly rose to international stardom in 1924, and would be acclaimed as a top fashion icon through the 1920s and 1930s.
Much of Wong’s legacy is tied to her public image bridging the gap between Chinese Americans and the mainstream American audience. Key historical context, Wong was active while the Chinese Exclusion Act was–the first and only American law that sought to bar a specific ethnic group from entering the country. Wong will be the first Asian American to make an appearance on US currency.
See if you know what words appear on American coinage here.