The American Women Quarters Program, a four-year program from 2022 through 2025, will include celebrated African American poet and memoirist Maya Angelou; Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee Nation’s first female principal chief; Adelina Otero-Warren, a New Mexican suffragist and education activist; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American actress to appear in Hollywood films.
In recent years, the issue of female representation on U.S. currency has been hotly debated. Currently, American currency is dominated by white men, with only a few women having had their likeness featured, including Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea and Helen Keller. A move to replace President Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the $20 bill with one of abolitionist Harriet Tubman has stalled, even though President Biden has signaled his willingness to do so.
The American Women Quarters Program was created by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb.
“This legislation would ensure generations of Americans learn about the unsung pioneers who blazed a trail forward for women and girls in the Silver State and across the country,” Cortez Masto said in her introduction of the program.
The public is welcome to submit its own recommendations for women to include in the program by June 30.
Here’s a summary of the accomplishments of each of the women selected so far to be featured on the quarter:
Angelou will make history as the first Black American to be pictured on U.S. currency. She is known for her series of seven autobiographies, most notably “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Born in St. Louis in 1928, Angelou went on to have a multifaceted career, not only as a poet and writer but also as a singer, actress, dancer and composer who became the first female Black director in Hollywood. She was also a civil rights activist who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and served as the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. In 2000 she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton, at whose 1993 inauguration she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” In 2010 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by President Barack Obama.
Mankiller was the first woman elected as the chief of a major Native tribe, serving as the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995. During her tenure, the Cherokee Nation’s population more than doubled and she worked to bolster its education, health care and housing services. She also worked with the U.S. government to create a self-government agreement for the Cherokee Nation. Mankiller was recognized as Ms. magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 1987, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1998 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton.
“Wilma was a humble, spiritual, great leader whose leadership was not only for Cherokee people but for all women and races. The real value of this coin is the inspiration it brings to Indian people and women everywhere,” Charlie Soap, Mankiller’s husband, told Indian Country Today following the U.S. Mint’s announcement.
Otero-Warren was a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement in the early 1900s who emphasized the need to conduct grassroots organizing in Spanish in addition to English to reach more women. As the chair of many political and activist organizations, including the New Mexico branch of the National Women’s Party, she successfully lobbied for the 19th Amendment to become ratified in the state. In 1917 she was elected the first female superintendent of public schools in Santa Fe. In this role, Otero-Warren focused on promoting adult education programs, setting up a county high school, raising teacher standards and salaries, and improving the conditions of schools. She also advocated for bicultural and bilingual education and became the first Hispanic woman to run for Congress, earning the Republican Party nomination in 1922.
In 1983, Ride became the first American woman to travel into space. Just 32 when she left the Earth’s atmosphere, she also remains the youngest American to have done so. After retiring from space travel, Ride became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, where she co-founded Sally Ride Science, a nonprofit that encourages students, especially girls and minorities, to pursue education and careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). Sally Ride Science offers K-12 STEAM education programs, professional development for teachers and online learning programs. Ride also took over EarthKAM, a NASA educational program that allowed students to direct a digital camera aboard a space shuttle and take photographs of Earth from space to use in their studies. More than 600,000 students and teachers in 80 countries have been able to participate in EarthKAM. In 2013, a year after her death, Ride was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Anna May Wong
Wong was the first Chinese American actress to appear in Hollywood films. Born Wong Liu Tsong in 1905 in Los Angeles, she sought refuge from the racism she faced at her mostly white elementary school by regularly spending her days on film sets in her neighborhood.
Through these escapes, Wong became interested in acting and, at the age of 11, came up with her stage name, Anna May Wong, by combining her American and Chinese names. She began landing roles as a teen and was given her first lead role at 17 in “The Toll of the Sea” (1922), a silent version of “Madame Butterfly.” After being repeatedly cast in stereotypical roles in Hollywood, however, a frustrated Wong moved to Europe, where she starred in many films, including “Schmutziges Geld” (1928), “Piccadilly” (1929) and “The Flame of Love” (1930). By the 1930s she was a global star, and in 1951 she became the first Asian American in a leading role in a television series in “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.”