Maya Angelou Becomes First Black Woman to Appear on the Quarter

The U.S. Mint started shipping the first quarters in the American Women Quarters Program on Monday, with poet Maya Angelou appearing on the reverse. She is the first Black woman to appear on a quarter. Angelou died in 2014 at age 86 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2010.

The coin's design features the I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings author with outstretched arms in front of a bird in flight and the sun's rays. Her name is under her left arm, and "E pluribus unum" is printed under her right arm. It was designed by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program artist Emily Damstra and sculpted by the Mint's medallic artist, Craig A. Campbell. The obverse also includes a new image of George Washington, originally sculpted in 1932 by Laura Gardin Fraser.

Angelou is just the first of several women to be honored by the quarters program. The rest of the 2022 lineup includes astronaut Sally Ride; Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; and Nina Otero-Warren, a leader of New Mexico's suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe's public schools. Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American movie star, will also be honored with a quarter. New quarters will continue shipping through 2025.

"It is my honor to present our Nation's first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history," Mint Deputy Director Ventris C. Gibson said Monday. "Each 2022 quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments being celebrated throughout this historic coin program. Maya Angelou, featured on the reverse of this first coin in the series, used words to inspire and uplift."

The American Women Quarters Program was authorized in the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020. However, the idea of the program dates back to the Obama administration. Rosie Rios, who served as U.S. treasurer from 2009 to 2016, advocated for honoring women on the quarter. She also pushed for Harriet Tubman to replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, an effort that stalled during the Trump Administration and was recently revived by President Joe Biden.

"For a lot of young girls, [like] my daughter, and hopefully a lot of future leaders, that will symbolize a lot for them – what I call 'inspirations for aspirations,' using history to inspire our future," Rios told CNBC Wednesday. "I really kind of boiled it down to this one question that I asked myself, which was: We value what we see every day, but do we see what we value?"

Before the quarter program, very few women were featured on U.S. currency. In 2000, the U.S. Mint started issuing dollar coins featuring Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony was featured on a dollar in 1979. Pocahontas and Martha Washington were on bills in the 1800s. However, as Rios points, out most of the women depicted on U.S. currency have been allegorical figures like Lady Liberty.

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U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who sponsored the bill with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California, praised the choice of Angelou for the first quarter in the program. "She is exactly the type of leader I had in mind when Senator Fischer, Representative Lee and I wrote our bipartisan legislation to create a series of quarters honoring the contributions of American women," she said. "This coin will ensure generations of Americans learn about Maya Angelou's books and poetry that spoke to the lived experience of Black women."