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Maya Angelou, Sally Ride and other trailblazing women will be featured on U.S. coins

Poet and activist Maya Angelou seen addressing the Democratic National in Boston, Massachusetts in July 2004. She is one of the female trailblazers who will be featured on some U.S. quarters starting in 2022.
Timothy A. Clary
AFP via Getty Images
Poet and activist Maya Angelou seen addressing the Democratic National in Boston, Massachusetts in July 2004. She is one of the female trailblazers who will be featured on some U.S. quarters starting in 2022.

Some U.S. coins will soon feature female trailblazers from different eras of American history, representing their accomplishments in fields spanning civil rights, politics, humanities and science.

That's thanks to the U.S. Mint's American Women Quarters Program, which was authorized by Congress earlier this year. The four-year program will introduce five coins, with tails honoring a diverse group of historical icons, each year between 2022 and 2025.

The Mint unveiled the designs for the first batch on Wednesday. They recognize the achievements of poet Maya Angelou; astronaut Sally Ride; actress Anna May Wong; suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren; and Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

"These inspiring coin designs tell the stories of five extraordinary women whose contributions are indelibly etched in American culture," said United States Mint acting Director Alison L. Doone in a statement. "Generations to come will look at coins bearing these designs and be reminded of what can be accomplished with vision, determination and a desire to improve opportunities for all."

The front of the coins will feature a portrait of George Washington, created by prolific 20th-century sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser in honor of his 200th birthday (it was submitted as a candidate for the 1932 quarter, but ultimately passed over). They will be available for sale online starting next year.

Read on to learn more about these women and what their quarters will look like. (And while they'll be faces on coins, you can guess what they'd say about women still making 82 cents for every dollar earned by men in the U.S.)

Maya Angelou

The late writer, performer and social activist already holds many distinctions. Among them: She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, won the Literarian Award (an honorary National Book Award), became the first Black woman (and second-ever poet) to write and present a poem at a presidential inauguration in 1992, held more than 30 honorary degrees and published more than 30 bestselling works.

Angelou's quarter will depict her with her arms uplifted, in front of a bird in flight and a rising sun. The Mint says those images are "inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived."

Sally Ride

The late astronaut, physicist and educator is best known as the first American woman — and youngest American — to travel to space. She dedicated the rest of her career to inspiring young people, particularly girls, in STEM. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, Aviation Hall of Fame and Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Her quarter design shows her next to a window on a space shuttle, which the Mint says is inspired by her quote "But when I wasn't working, I was usually at a window looking down at Earth."

Wilma Mankiller

Mankiller was the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1987, and is celebrated as an activist for Native American and women's rights. The Mint notes that during her two terms in office, she tripled her tribe's enrollment, doubled employment and built new housing, health centers and children's programs in northeast Oklahoma.

"Under her leadership, infant mortality declined and educational levels rose," it says. "Her leadership on social and financial issues made her tribe a national role model."

She's also a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and National Women's Hall of Fame inductee. Mankiller's coin shows her in profile, looking ahead with the wind in her back and wearing a traditional shawl. It also features the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee Nation.

Nina Otero-Warren

Otero-Warren was a leading suffragist in New Mexico and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools. She championed the lobbying effort to ratify the 19th Amendment, and emphasized the importance of speaking Spanish in the suffrage fight in order to reach Hispanic women.

"Otero-Warren strove to improve education for all New Mexicans, working especially to advance bicultural education and to preserve cultural practices among the state's Hispanic and Native American communities," the Mint says.

Her coin shows her gazing ahead with her hands clasped in front of her, alongside the words "Voto Para La Mujer" and three Yucca flowers, New Mexico's state flower.

Anna May Wong

Wong was the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood, appearing in more than 60 movies and achieving international success in the face of racism and discrimination. Her coin shows her resting her head on her hand, surrounded by the round lights of a marquee sign.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.