Since March is officially Women's History Month, let's find out about the women who have graced our coins. The 1792 Coinage Act officially established the building of the United States Mint in Philadelphia and the regulation of our coins. Denominations were set from the Half Cent all the way up to our then largest denomination, the $10 Gold Eagle. Not only did the Mint Act establish what coins would be made but also what they would have to have on them. I'm sure we're all familiar with the mottos "In God We Trust" and "E Pluribus Unum". One other requirement was that coins for circulation must include an "Impression emblematic of Liberty". Of course, we all know her today as Lady Liberty. However, Lady Liberty is an emblem. Yes, there were often models for Lady Liberty but Lady Liberty herself is not a real woman. So, who was the first actual woman to make it onto circulating coins?
Before we find out who and when, I'll give you a hint. Some collectors know this but the first actual person on a coin was none other than Abraham Lincoln when he graced the 1909 Lincoln cent. So, we know it took almost 120 years to even have a real person on our coins! Without further adieu, it would be 70 years more before the first actual woman would appear. Susan B. Anthony, the famous women's suffragist... but she wouldn't be the last.
The Susan B. Anthony dollars ran from 1979 to 1981 and once again in 1999. It wasn't long before our second woman was chosen for a totally new coin. It would be Sacagawea on the new "Golden Dollars" coming in the year 2000. She was famous for helping Lewis and Clark on their well known expedition. In 2003, our next famous woman was placed on the Alabama Quarter. It was Helen Keller. This coin is very popular for how well known Helen Keller is but also it featured her name written in braille. The first time the Mint has ever used braille on a coin. Helen Adams Keller was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer even though she lost her sight and hearing after a bout of illness at the age of nineteen months.
Until 2022 this short list only included these three great woman. However, there are more on the way! This year the Mint started a new series running through 2025 - The American Women Quarters Series. We will see more great women memorialized on our coins than ever before! The first five starting the series are:
- Maya Angelou – celebrated writer, performer, and social activist
- Dr. Sally Ride – physicist, astronaut, educator, and first American woman in space
- Wilma Mankiller – first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation
- Nina Otero-Warren – a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools
- Anna May Wong – first Chinese American film star in Hollywood
This is sure to be an amazing and popular series and another nod to all of the great women to be depicted. Happy collecting!