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Money Story 2: Women of Valor
This started, as many Saturday morning musings do, as a LinkedIn post that turned into a linked series of searches that gave way to filling in gaps in my knowledge of coins, history and mythology. (Earlier searches today involved understanding the nomenclature of pipe organs, after a set of queries about the Royal Albert Hall seating plan — more will be revealed in the next six weeks)
Thanks for the comments, sidebars and shared stories about my fascination with coins. It was top of mind as I paid (cash) for my Saturday indulgence in a semi-sweet bagel, and I found life imitating art.
Maya Angelou greeted me from my change, a beautiful engraving, capturing the (un)caged bird and the rays of liberty — icons from our and her shared stories. Sadly, the quarter already has signs of wear having traveled a mere 90 miles up the Turnpike to me with likely very few changes of hands.
Maya Angelou is the first in this program featuring a woman of valor, who can find? (look it up). For 250 years, one answer has been “nobody holding American coinage.”
The earliest coins minted in the US featured depictions of Liberty as the Greco-Roman goddess Libertas - flowing hair, rays of light, mythical and idealistic and wonderfully engraved. When historical icons moved to the obverse, it was purely men on our coins, starting with Lincoln on the penny in 1909. A few, feeble attempts to redress this literal stamp of sexism actually made things worse — dollar coins featuring Susan B Anthony in 1979 and Sacagawea in the last decade were curiosities with scant hope of circulation. Americans have rejected any coin larger than a quarter since the silver dollar stoped circulated a century ago. Dollar coins do not serve the purpose of promoting the cultural icons so featured. The American Women Quarters program solves this - the most popular coin, with the faces and implicit stories of women the entire country should know.
Good morning, Maya Angelou. I did some more searching: She was born in Missouri (like me), she was the first Black poet to speak at a Presidential Inauguration (Clinton), she challenged social norms from interracial marriage to covering the decolonization of Africa to writing painful personal stories. I knew maybe 5% of her story an hour ago, and so the first coin in the American Women Quarters program has done its first job.
A woman of valor, indeed. Despite attempts to ban her books, her likeness on our money tells a story.