She’s been immortalized on a stamp (albeit amid some controversy), as a Barbie, as the subject of a Broadway-bound script, and even a Google Doodle. And of course, writer-activist Maya Angelou lives eternally in our literary imagination. Now, the renaissance woman will be one of the first American women to appear on a series of quarters that will be issued by the United States Mint over the next four years.
Though the Mint made its initial announcement in April, the New York Times publicized the news on Mother’s Day, reporting that Angelou and astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, will kick off the series, which will run from 2022 to 2025. But in case you’re wondering, unfortunately each woman’s visage will still be sharing space with that of George Washington, who will also get a refresh.
“Each woman will be honored on the reverse, or tails, side of the coins, which will enter circulation in January as part of the American Women Quarters Program. The heads side of the coin will feature a new design of George Washington,” wrote the Times.
A statement issued by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who championed the series through the introduction of legislation in the House, lauded the inclusion of Angelou and others on the coins, writing:
For too long, many of the women who have contributed to our country’s history have gone unrecognized, especially women of color...I am pleased to see that the first women to be recognized under my bill are outstanding individuals in the fields of science and literature: Dr. Sally Ride and Dr. Maya Angelou. They paved the way for many who came after them and inspired young women to carry on their legacy. Our goal in working on this legislation was to honor phenomenal women like Dr. Maya Angelou and Dr. Sally Ride. I’m glad they are among the first of many to be recognized.
Who else can we expect to see gracing a quarter in the next several years? In its own statement, the Mint said: “The American Women Quarters may feature contributions from a variety of fields, including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The women honored will be from ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds.” The public is encouraged to contribute suggestions for other honorees, keeping in mind that it is against the law to feature a living person on in a coin design. Janet Yellen, the first female secretary of the treasury, will approve the final selections and designs, “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,” reports the Times.
If you’re wondering whether Angelou will be the first Black woman to grace a United States coin, that distinction might technically belong to another figure, albeit imagined. In 2017, the Mint issued a hundred-dollar gold coin depicting Lady Liberty as a Black woman—as the muse for the famed statue in New York’s harbor is widely but inconclusively rumored to have been. As for that hotly debated proposal to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill? As of late January of this year, the Biden administration was reportedly seeking ways to accelerate the redesign, according to the Times.