22222222Women on the Quarter: Maya Angelou

By Jenny Horn

Earlier this week, Maya Angelou became the first Black woman on the U.S. quarter – the start of the rollout of the American Women Quarters Program, a four year endeavor in which the Mint will release five new quarter designs per year. This year’s other quarter honorees are Sally Ride, the first American woman to go to space; Wilma Mankiller, a Native American activist; Nina Otero-Warren, a prominent leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood (usmint.gov, 2022). 

Maya Angelou, the writer and poet best known for her landmark 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is featured on the “tails” side of the quarter, while the “heads” side still depicts the portrait of George Washington. Ms. Angelou’s memoir chronicled her childhood in the Jim Crow South, and was among one of the very first autobiographies by a 20th-century Black woman to reach a wide general audience. In it, she proclaims, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

In the future and on paper currency, it can be expected to see the abolitionist Harriet Tubman replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill by 2030, according to the U.S. Treasury Department (New York Times, 2022). Alongside the American Quarters Program, this action would be part of the larger effort to document and highlight women in U.S. history who have intensely contributed to our livelihoods today – a long overdue but appreciated venture to give these women the recognition and status they persevered to achieve.