Get ready for a welcome and long overdue change in your quarters.
The first coins in the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program have begun to enter circulation, the federal agency announced this week. The reverse, or “tails” side, of the first batch of quarters features poet Maya Angelou, depicted with a bird in flight and a rising sun behind her as images representing her poetry.
Angelou, who spent her childhood bouncing between her parents’ home in St. Louis and her grandmother’s home in Stamps, Arkansas, is perhaps best known for her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” She also read “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1992 inauguration of President Bill Clinton and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2010. She was the 2013 recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community, just a year before her death in 2014.
The obverse, or “heads” side of the coin, honors another woman: Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966). The image on this side of the quarter uses a portrait of George Washington that the artist, one of the most prolific female sculptors of the early 20th century, created in 1932 in recognition of his 200th birthday.
Additional women of honor to be featured on quarters this year are Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut; Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood. The program will continue with more honorees on quarters through 2025.
Of course, women have been featured on U.S. currency before. But it has often been allegorical, such as anonymous “Lady Liberty” figures, or short-lived, such as Helen Keller on the 2003 commemorative state quarter for Alabama. Other women to have graced either coins or paper bills over the centuries are Martha Washington, Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony and Pocahontas. Plans also are apparently still in the works to put abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill in place of President Andrew Jackson.
Even so, this program puts a much-needed spotlight on American women — modern women from our own generations — who have made a difference and left a mark on society.
We will be thrilled to get our first Maya Angelou quarters in our wallets. She deserves this honor, a capstone on a lifetime of terrific achievements. Not only is she the first Black woman to grace an American quarter, but she also is an inspiring reminder that individuals from even the most humble Midwest beginnings can rise to greatness.