Maya Angelou Quarter Launches American Women Coin Program

The United States Mint's new American Women Quarters program debuts in 2022. The first coin in the series honors the inimitable Maya Angelou, one of the country's greatest literary minds of the 20th century.

This also marks the first time an African American woman has ever been depicted on a circulating U.S. coin.

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2022 American Women Quarters Maya Angelou coin. Image courtesy of U.S. Mint

First Black Woman on an American Coin

The new Maya Angelou quarter went into circulation on Monday, January 10th. You should begin to see these new coins pop up in your pocket change soon.

The American Women Quarters program is slated to run through 2025. Angelou will be joined by four more historic American women on coins released later this year:

  • Dr. Sally Ride: a PhD physicist and the first woman to serve as an astronaut and travel to space
  • Wilma Mankiller: the first woman to serve as the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation
  • Nina Otero-Warren: a suffragist and the first woman to serve as superintendent of Santa Fe public schools in New Mexico
  • Anna May Wong: the first Chinese American woman to become a film star in Hollywood

You can learn more about the American Women Quarters program from the United States Mint.

Maya Angelou is universally recognized as one of the greatest writers and poets in American history. Her work often explored themes such as identity, meaning, and belonging. She also had a long and fruitful career as a social activist who pushed for civil rights for women and Black Americans.

While Angelou will be the first Black woman in history to appear on a U.S. quarter—or on any U.S. currency, for that matter—it's also worth noting the other strides the U.S. Mint has recently made in terms of diversity and inclusion.

The popular set of American Liberty silver medals and gold coins released in 2017 portrayed Lady Liberty as an African American woman for the first time. Moreover, there are still pending proposals to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with the abolitionist Harriet Tubman, of Underground Railroad fame.

Maya Angelou Quarter: Coin Design

There's an interesting rule governing the subjects of American coins that remains on the books: Under current U.S. law, an individual cannot be featured on a legal tender coin if they are still alive. (Angelou passed away in 2014.) This may seem like a curious law, but it embodies the idea that no person should be venerated like a king or emperor in a truly democratic republic.

The common obverse of the American Women Quarters depicts George Washington (seen below). This rendition of the first president was created by Laura Gardin Fraser, the wife of sculptor and coin designer James Earle Fraser. This version of Washington was originally rejected for the quarter in 1932, but has been used for certain modern commemorative coins. Mrs. Fraser earned the distinction as the first woman to design an American coin with the 1921 Alabama Centennial half dollar.

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Laura Fraser's obverse design for the 2022 American Women Quarters. Image courtesy of U.S. Mint

The reverse of the coin was designed by Emily Damstra and sculpted by medallic artist Craig Campbell. It shows Angelou with her arms outstretched, mirroring a bird with its wings spread in the background. The visual imagery is a reference to the author's blockbuster autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969.

Candidates for the American Women Quarters series were submitted by the public. According to the U.S. Mint, "the Secretary of the Treasury selects the honorees following consultation with the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative, the National Women’s History Museum, and the Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus." To find out more, visit the United States Mint website.

Read more recent articles about the United States Mint from the expert authors at Gainesville Coins:

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Everett Millman

Everett Millman

Managing Editor | Analyst, Commodities and Finance

Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.

In addition to blogging, Everett's work has been featured in Reuters, CNN Business, Bloomberg Radio, TD Ameritrade Network, CoinWeek, and has been referenced by the Washington Post.