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- African-American poet and author (1928-2014)
The U.S. Mint will begin circulating quarters honoring five women this year as part of a four-year series celebrating contributions women have made to the United States. Among the diverse group of women being honored are a celebrated poet and civil rights activist, the first American woman in space, the first Chinese American movie star, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and the first woman to serve as superintendent of the Santa Fe public schools.
"Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country — what we value, and how we've progressed as a society. I'm very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America's most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou" said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who had final approval over the choices.
The women being honored were selected following an expansive selection process. Last year, the National Women's History Museum website launched a portal allowing people to submit names of women they would like to see honored. More than 11,000 names were submitted in four months.
The recommendations served as part of the list the mint, working with other groups such as the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, National Women's History Museum and Congressional Bipartisan Women's Caucus, considered when looking for potential honorees.
The goal is for quarters to feature women who have made contributions in a variety of fields including suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space and the arts. The effort also aims to select women from racially, ethnically and geographically diverse backgrounds. No living woman can be selected.
The American Women Quarters Program will continue through 2025 with the release of up to five quarters each year.
The first quarters, already being shipped to the Federal Reserve this month for distribution to the public, will feature writer and poet, performer and activist. Angelou rose to prominence with her autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." She went on to publish more than two dozen best-selling works including poetry, fiction and nonfiction.
In 1993, Angelou read "On the Pulse of Morning" at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, making her the first African American and woman to recite poetry at a presidential inauguration.
As an activist, Angelou served as a coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Angelou also appeared in plays on and off-Broadway.
Quarters featuring the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, are expected to begin circulation in February.
In 1983, Ride was aboard the shuttle Challenger for its six-day mission in space, making her the first woman and, at 32, the youngest American in space at the time. It was the first of two flights into space aboard the shuttle for Ride, who left NASA in 1987.
Ride went on to focus her career on educating young people, co-authoring six science books, as well as launching an organization focused on inspiring young people in STEM.
She died of cancer in 2012.
Quarters featuring the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and women's rights activist Wilma Mankiller will begin circulating this spring.
Mankiller founded the Community Development Department for the Cherokee Nation, which focused on improving housing and water. In 1983, she was named running mate in the re-election bid of Principal Chief Ross Swimmer. The win made her the first woman elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation.
She was elected chief in 1987 and left office in 1995. In 1998, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Quarters with Nina Otero-Warren will be distributed this summer.
Otero-Warren was a leader in New Mexico's suffrage movement, spearheading efforts for the state to ratify the 19th Amendment recognizing women's right to vote.
During her efforts, she insisted literature be published in English and Spanish. Otero-Warren was also the first woman to serve as superintendent of the Santa Fe public schools from 1918 to 1929, where she advocated for both Spanish and English in schools, despite an English-only federal mandate. She also was a critic of the government's Indian school system, advocating for better conditions.
Anna May Wong
The final quarter as part of this year's series features Anna May Wong, considered the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood. Wong appeared in more than 60 movies, including one of the first films made in Technicolor, achieving international recognition. In 1951, she was also the first Asian American to lead a U.S. television show.
Over the next four years, the mint will continue to meet with partners to decide on potential honorees. There are several more steps to finalize the recommendations before they are sent to the Treasury Secretary for approval.
The legislation creating the program in commemoration of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California in 2019 and passed in 2020. It was signed into law in January 2021.
While each of the five quarters this year will honor a prominent American woman, the "heads" sides of the coins will continue to feature the portrait of President George Washington.