In a historic move, the newly minted Maya Angelou quarters have officially entered circulation as of January 2022. This is the first time a Black woman has been featured on U.S. currency, and many are celebrating the decision — including Oprah.
Angelou was an accomplished writer, poet, and civil rights activist, and her work has had a profound impact on American culture. The newly minted Maya Angelou quarter commemorates her life and legacy — and is the first of several quarters that will feature American women.
But why is the U.S. Mint changing figures on our currency? And how do they go about selecting who gets to be featured? Let’s take a closer look at that.
American Women Quarters™ Program
In 2020, the U.S. Mint announced a new program called American Women Quarters™. This program — which will run from 2022 to 2025 — is designed to honor the achievements of women in America by issuing coins with new designs each year.
The “heads” side of the quarter continues to be George Washington’s portrait, but the “tails” side features a prominent woman from history. Maya Angelou’s quarter is a nod to her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Created by Emily Damstra, it features Dr. Angelou standing with outstretched arms, overshadowed by bird wings, with rays of sunshine beaming behind her.
Source: U.S. Mint
Who else will be on the 2022 quarters?
The U.S. Mint will release five new quarter designs each year. The four other women who will be featured on U.S. quarters in 2022 include:
- Dr. Sally Ride – a physicist, astronaut, and the first American woman in space
- Wilma Mankiller – the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and activist for Native American and women’s rights
- Nina Otero-Warren – a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools
- Anna May Wong – the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood
Here’s a sketch of what each 2022 design will look like. You can view high-res images of each quarter on the U.S. Mint’s website. They’ve not yet announced who will be featured on the coins in 2023 and beyond.
Source: US Mint
Why Change the Figures on Our Currency?
Throughout history, the figures on U.S. currency have been exclusively white men. This has caused a lot of frustration and anger among women and communities of color, whose contributions to American culture have been largely overlooked and underrepresented.
The American Women Quarters™ program is an attempt to address this issue, and to celebrate the accomplishments of American women. The U.S. Mint has stated that they want to create a more inclusive and diverse society, and changing the figures on our currency is one way to do that.
“These inspiring coin designs tell the stories of five extraordinary women whose contributions are indelibly etched in American culture,” said United States Mint Acting Director Alison L. Doone in a 2021 press release. “Generations to come will look at coins bearing these designs and be reminded of what can be accomplished with vision, determination and a desire to improve opportunities for all.”
The Biden administration has also begun to restore efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the $20.
How Were These Women Chosen?
Now, you may be wondering, “How did the U.S. Mint choose which prominent women get to grace our currency?” Well, it actually started with a tweet.
The National Women’s History Museum set up a web portal in 2021 to receive potential honorees — and the U.S. Mint sent out a tweet asking for submissions from the public. The Secretary of the Treasury then met with the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative, the National Women’s History Museum, and the Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus to narrow down the list.
The selection process was extremely rigorous, and the Mint received nominations from all 50 states. After careful consideration, they selected a diverse group of women who have made a significant impact on American culture.
In all, the design and selection process looked something like this:
Source: US Mint
The American Women Quarters™ program is a much-needed effort to address the lack of diversity on U.S. currency and to celebrate the accomplishments of American women. We can’t wait to see which quarter will be rolled out next.
Have you seen the new Maya Angelou quarter in person yet? Let us know on Twitter and be sure to share photos!