Maya Angelou has become the first Black woman to appear on the U.S. quarter

If you’re running low on your quarter stash, now might be the coolest time to head to the bank to stock up.

As announced by the U.S. Mint last fall, five pioneering American women will appear on the first run of the "American Women Quarters Program," featuring images of prominent women in American history on the back select quarters beginning this year.

The first quarter to go into circulation features the legendary poet, activist and author Maya Angelou, making her the first Black woman ever to appear on the coin.

The U.S. quarter featuring Angelou is part of the U.S. Mint's
The U.S. quarter featuring Angelou is part of the U.S. Mint's "American Women Quarters Program." (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Mint)

Other honorees include astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American film star in Hollywood; Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller; and suffragette and politician Nina Otero-Warren, who was the first Hispanic woman to run for U.S. Congress. Their coins are scheduled to roll out later this year and through 2025. (You can see all of their coin designs here.)

"It is my honor to present our Nation’s first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history," U.S. Mint deputy director Ventris C. Gibson said in a statement. "Each 2022 quarter is designed to reflect the breadth and depth of accomplishments being celebrated throughout this historic coin program. Maya Angelou, featured on the reverse of this first coin in the series, used words to inspire and uplift."

Angelou’s depiction, as designed and sculpted by artists Emily Damstra and Craig A. Campbell, features the poet with her arms uplifted as she stands in front of a bird in flight against the backdrop of a rising sun.

The image is "inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived," as stated on the U.S. Mint's website.

Angelou rose to international prominence after her groundbreaking autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1969. The coming-of-age story depicts the author’s early years and explores subjects such as rape, racism, identity and literacy through the eyes of a Black woman in a male-dominated society.

Caged Bird was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and continues to be one of American literature’s most treasured masterpieces. Angelou went on to publish over 30 bestselling works of verse, non-fiction and fiction.

In her decades-long career — which include dance, theater, journalism and social activism — she made several firsts, including in 1992, when she became the first Black woman to write and present a poem at a presidential inauguration when she read poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 by President Barack Obama and was the 2013 recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community.

The "American Women Quarters Program" was authorized by Public Law 116-330, and was co-sponsored by several bipartisan senators and representatives, including Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Representative Barbara Lee.

“Maya Angelou’s writing and activism inspired countless Americans and her legacy helped fuel greater fairness and understanding across our nation,” Senator Masto said in a statement. “She is exactly the type of leader I had in mind when Senator [Deb] Fischer, Representative Lee and I wrote our bipartisan legislation to create a series of quarters honoring the contributions of American women. This coin will ensure generations of Americans learn about Maya Angelou’s books and poetry that spoke to the lived experience of Black women.”

Representative Lee added: “I will forever cherish the private moments I had the privilege to share with Maya, from talking in her living room as sisters to her invaluable counsel throughout the challenges I faced as a Black woman in elected office. I am proud to have led this effort to honor these phenomenal women, who more often than not are overlooked in our country’s telling of history. If you find yourself holding a Maya Angelou quarter, may you be reminded of her words, 'Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.'"

Following the announcement of the program — and the reveal of Angelou's coin — some of America's most prominent women celebrated the author's life by commemorating the moment:

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