February 8, 2023
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Do you still use coins for commerce in the United States? If you do, you may have recently noticed two new phenomena about US Quarters. One is that there are women on the coin. The American Eagle that usually graces the back of the coin is missing.
In his place are portraits depicting women. The other is that George Washington is facing the wrong way. No, your coin is not fake. No, the mint did not misprint a coin. What has happened is that the American Women’s Quarter Program has begun.
Women On American Money. They Are Rare Cases.
Money in the United States tends to have four common themes; Founding Fathers, Presidents, eagles, and monuments. Until recently, there have been only three exceptions to the norm. In 1893, the US Mint printed a Queen Isabella of Spain memorial quarter. The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was minted in 1979. The Sacagawea coin replaced that coin from 2000 to 2008. Other than those instances, women have not appeared in US Currency other than in special coin collections. Such special collections celebrated states or special events, not the women themselves.
The American Women Quarters Program
For the first time in the nation’s history, a full slate of women on currency is in line to be produced by the US Mint. Five quarters a year will be produced annually in 2022 and continue through 2025. These coins will depict women of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds who made important contributions to their various fields. Their accomplishments add significantly to American society. The program commemorates the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
What is the Nineteenth Amendment?
Until August 1920, Women in the United States of America did not have the right to vote in governmental elections. Prior to 1776, several colonies allowed women to vote. By 1807, every state had eliminated that right. In 1848, a movement calling for women’s suffrage started.
Activists, including Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, began demanding an amendment to the Constitution providing women the right to vote. New states, mainly in the west, did allow women the right. A bill was introduced to Congress in 1887 but was rejected. It would take over twenty years for women’s right to vote to be granted as the 19th Amendment. Sadly, several exemptions restricted the new rights to only white women. A movement for equal rights for women of color began shortly after the 19th Amendment was ratified.
Who Will Be On the Coins?
In February of 2022, the first Women’s Quarter Program coin was released. American Poet, Maya Angelou, is depicted on the coin’s reverse (tails) side. A coin released in March depicts teacher and astronaut Dr. Sally Ride. Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected Chief of the Cherokee nation, appears on a coin released in early June of 2022.
The selections for 2022 and 2023 printing have been released. Nominees for 2024 and 2025 have yet to be selected. Note that the law prohibits any living person from being represented on American currency.
What’s Up With George?
If you look closely at the image of George Washington on these unique coins, you will notice he is looking the wrong way. Since 1932, the quarter has featured a portrait of the first president designed by John Flanagan. Laura Gardin Fraser, a prolific sculptor in her own right, submitted a portrait for consideration at the time. Even though Fraser’s image was recommended, the Treasury Secretary at the time chose the left-facing Flanagan design. In the spirit of recognizing the accomplishments of women in the arts, officials resurrected Fraser’s right-facing design for the new series of coins.
How Are Women Chosen?
The public was called upon to nominate honorees in 2021. The Women’s National History Museum established a website for the public to make recommendations. In cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s Initiative and the National Women’s Historical Museum, the Secretary of the Treasury used those nominations to create a list for congressional consideration. The Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus approves final selections. Once the subjects are selected, a six-step procedure begins to produce the actual coin.
Women have been part of this nation since its inception. From the time we were in grade school, we learned the names of women who contributed to the social and political structure of the country. It is a sad commentary on the past values of our government that women and their achievements required a special program to celebrate their contributions. On the other hand, those achievements are now being observed, suggesting that our values are shifting. Perhaps, as a society, we are beginning to recognize the contributions of every individual, regardless of class, race, or gender.