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Got a quarter?

What started out as a weeklong celebration at a school district in Sonoma, California, in 1978 became a month-long national celebration nine years later – making March the official Women’s History Month. This annual observance is considered a time to recognize and honor women’s contributions to history, culture, and society. Of course, you never have to wait until this month to celebrate women, so let’s talk about a (literal) money story honoring women in history that you may have missed.

The American Women Quarters Program

In 2020, the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act was enacted authorizing the “redesign and issuance of quarter-dollars emblematic of prominent American women and commemorating the 19th amendment.” Starting in 2022, the U.S. Mint began issuing five new designs a year for the tail side – formally referred to as the ‘reverse’ – of the U.S. quarter as a part of The American Women Quarters Program.

In 2021, the general public was invited to submit recommendations for potential honorees through the National Women’s History Museum’s website. The honorees were then selected by the Secretary of the Treasury after consulting with the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative, the National Women’s History Museum, and the Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus.

In total, the four-year program will honor 20 women by 2025. The first five honorees were Maya Angelou, a celebrated writer, performer, and social activist; Dr. Sally Ride, a physicist, astronaut, educator, and the first American woman in space; Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation; Nina Otero-Warren, a suffrage leader and the first woman superintendent of Santa Fe public schools; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood. View the 2024 honorees here.

In addition to the reverse designs for these collector quarters, the other side – or obverse, as it is formally known – has also been changed. Unlike the reverse designs, this design is not new and was originally created in 1931 by sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser. She submitted her design of a right-facing Washington to a competition honoring the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday held by Congress that year. Fraser was not new to coin design as she had designed for the U.S. Mint before and was the first woman to design a commemorative coin in 1921 with the Alabama Centennial Half Dollar. She also designed the 1922 Grant Memorial Half Dollar and Gold Dollar, the 1925 Fort Vancouver Centennial Half Dollar, and in collaboration with her husband the 1926 Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar.

Fraser’s 1931 design for the quarter was popular, but ultimately a left-facing design by John Flanagan was chosen and has been on the quarter’s obverse since 1932. Her design was not completely forgotten as it was used on a George Washington Commemorative $5 Coin in 1999, but with the first five quarter re-designs printed in 2022, her design was finally placed where it was always intended to be.

Author

  • Julianne Culey

    Julianne is the Assistant Director of the Reynolds Center with expertise in marketing and communications and holds a master's in Sociology from Arizona State University.

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