Maya Angelou Becomes One of the First Women to Appear on the U.S. Quarter

Maya Angelou Quarter BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of U.S. Mint.

One of the most important representations, as well as one of the most overlooked, are precisely those that pass from hand to hand on a daily basis: coins and bills. That’s why the news that icons like Dr. Maya Angelou will appear on the new series of U.S. coins is a historic milestone.

As reported by Because of Them We Can, poet Maya Angelou will be one of the first women to appear in the U.S. quarter.

Angelou joins Sally Ride as the first star of a new series of coins honoring American women.

The iconic poet, performer, civil rights activist, and one of the most influential literary voices is now part of the U.S. Mint’s program honoring women who have made history.

Angelou was a poet, memoirist, activist, and voice for American civil rights. Her works include seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and her name appears in the credits of several plays, films, and television shows in a career spanning more than 50 years.

Among dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees, Maya Angelou is the epitome of the true American story. Before becoming famous for her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), Angelou had to survive on odd jobs. These included cook, sex worker, nightclub actress, cast member of Porgy and Bess, coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa.

In 1982 she was appointed the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and collaborated with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made about 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” (1993) at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, making her the first poet to do an inaugural recital since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration.

Now, Angelou will be part of the U.S. Mint’s program honoring women who have made history.

Maya Angelou Quarter 2 BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of U.S. Mint.

The U.S. Mint’s American Women’s Quarters Program was first introduced by Senators Deb Fischer and Catherine Cortez Masto, eventually being passed in 2020.

“These past 100 years of suffrage would not have been possible without the work of so many courageous women, whose efforts paved the way for many more to make crucial contributions to the history of the United States,” Fischer and Cortez Masto told the press earlier this year.

According to CBS News, pioneering astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman launched into space on the shuttle Challenger in 1983, will also be honored on the coin. Angelou and Ride will appear on the reverse, or “tails side,” beginning in January 2022 as part of the series of U.S. quarters led by project manager Michelle Thompson.

“It’s a huge deal, the American Women Quarters program gives the opportunity to have women out there on circulating coins,” Thompson told CBS This Morning’s Dana Jacobson. “Their legacies, their achievements, they’re all going to be captured on pocket change for generations.”

The other 18 honorees — who have yet to be announced — will come from a wide variety of fields including abolition, suffrage, and civil rights movements, as well as the humanities, science, and the arts.

“We’re looking for a very broad, diverse group of women because that’s what we have in America,” said Thompson. “And they’re the type of women who have shaped where we are as a nation.”