It is part of a new program by the US government that honors the accomplishments and influence of women in American history.
Women have always been at the forefront of any change that happened in American society. Despite their invaluable contribution, the group has not earned the respect they deserved in the annals of history, especially if they were POCs. To change this trend, the US government came up with the idea of the American Women Quarters Program. The objective of this program is to celebrate and honor the accomplishments of women in the United States. To do so, the US Mint will issue five new designs for four years straight, featuring women who have contributed to American society with their talent. The design in these quarters will continue to have a likeness of George Washington. The program started in 2022 and is expected to continue till 2025.
The five women honored in 2022 included Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong. Maya Angelou, per the website, influenced the whole country with her contributions to the fields of dance, theater, journalism and social activism. Her autobiography titled, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," gave an authentic description of the hard life Black folks had to persevere in Jim Crow South.
She took a huge step forward for her people when she recited "On the Pulse of Morning" at the 1992 inauguration of President Clinton. It marked the first time a Black woman wrote and presented a poem at a presidential inauguration. She was also the second poet after Robert Frost to have this honor. In her entire life, the luminary was bestowed with 30 honorary degrees.
Excited to announce that today, Maya Angelou becomes the first Black woman to appear on a US quarter!— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) January 10, 2022
The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long—especially women of color. Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies. pic.twitter.com/TYZeEJ8LhX
Seeing her impact on society, the committee decided to have her face on the quarters. The obverse side had the typical portrait of George Washington, while the reverse (tails) side featured Angelou with arms lifted in the air. Behind her figure were a bird in flight and a rising sun. It is a reference to her popular work "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." The inscriptions surrounding the design were "MAYA ANGELOU," "E PLURIBUS UNUM" and "QUARTER DOLLAR." The whole idea was put together by US Mint artist Emily Damstra. The legendary poet unfortunately passed away in 2014.
In an interview with Art-Net, the designer put into words the artistic process behind this creation. She said, "I decided that showing her in an uplifting stance, gesturing expressively, as she often did while performing, would best convey the passionate way she lived. The bird in flight and the rising sun are imagery that she incorporated in her own writing and are also symbolic of the way she lived." The model of the bird is a purple martin, a songbird native to Arkansas. Damstra chose this bird specifically as Angelou spent a huge chunk of her childhood in Arkansas and wanted that aspect to be reflected. Even though she took inspiration from real-life photographs of the poet, she came up with the pose herself.
The project was definitely in good hands, as Damstra's fondness for Angelou was evident in the interview. She shared, "I am in awe of her ability to recount her life in such detail and her willingness to share her stories so honestly." The artist was also hired to design the Anna May Wong quarter. To research the actress, she studied her subject diligently. She said, "I watched one of her films and viewed many photos of her. She had a remarkable career and I'm so pleased that she'll gain more recognition by being part of the American Women Quarters program."