In honor of Women’s History Month, the U.S. Mint announced five new coins this month that honor the contributions of American women in the fight for equality.
The American Women Quarters Program is a four-year program that honors accomplishments and contributions made by women of the United States. Beginning in 2022, and continuing through 2025, the U.S. Mint issues up to five new reverse designs yearly.
“There is a long tradition of earmarking a certain date or dates to bring something to the public’s attention. So Women’s History Month, as well as the American Women Quarters Program, is about making the unseen and invisible, visible,” said Hope May, professor of philosophy at Central Michigan University.
The American Women Quarters feature contributions from an array of fields such as suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space and the arts. The women recognized are from varying ethnic, racial and geographical backgrounds.
Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady, author, and civil liberties advocate, is one of five featured in this year’s series.
May describes the Roosevelt as a force to be reckoned with.
“She was the first lady in 1933, and by the time World War II began, one of the most popular syndicated columnists in her day,” May said.
“She came onto my radar when I was learning about International Human Rights Law and how that law is related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She stewarded and shepherded the idea of human rights out of a UN sub-committee and into the UN General Assembly for a vote. And after doing so, she stressed the importance of public education about those rights. It is important to note that Eleanor did this after her husband, Franklin, died,” May said.
From first lady to formidable diplomatist and advocate for peace, Roosevelt had a lasting impact on the country. Human rights and the education of the public were subjects of interest to her.
“One of my favorite quotes of hers is this: Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere,” May said.
“I am fascinated by the intersections of movements involving women: peace, suffrage, abolition; and their transnational dimensions. I am also fascinated with how so-called ‘pioneer women’ who create a path where there’s none impact both women and men,” May said.
Other women being honored in this year’s commemorative quarter program include:
- Bessie Coleman – first African-American and first Native American woman pilot
- Originally from Oklahoma, her father was a member of the Osage Nation. After showing interest in the ballet, Tallchief’s mother put her in lessons. They moved the family to LA in hopes of Maria scoring a big role. After high school she moved to New York. She spent time as an understudy before an injury swiftly sent her into her first role. In 1947, she was the first American dancer to perform in the Paris Opera. She was told to change her last name to avoid discrimination, she declined. She went on to become the prima ballerina of New York City. After retiring, she opened a Chicago City ballet with her sister.
Other Inspirations in Women’s History
May’s biggest female inspiration is Constance Lytton. She died 100 years ago at the age of 53.
“Constance was a suffragette belonging to one of the most aristocratic families in England, and she consciously and deliberately chose to endure suffering and torture to expose injustice and hypocrisy. Suffragettes were arrested, and when in prison, went on hunger strikes and were forcibly fed,” May said.
“But the prison warden refused to forcibly feed Constance, because of her elevated social status. Needing to stand in solidarity with women who here less privileged and being forcibly fed, Constance disguised herself as a commoner, assumed a the name ‘Jane Warton’, and as Jane Warton she was forcibly fed. She then went to the press to expose the economic justice,” May said.
Since its introduction in 1987, Women’s History Month has been a reminder to people everywhere of the longstanding efforts in history to push equality forward.
“When we engage in this work, thinking begins and the “slow awakening of the human conscience” continues its onward march,” May said.
Check out these related reads for more on Women’s History Month:
Meet the Protector of Northern Michigan, Kira Davis
Meet Northern Michigan’s Liaison, Beatriz Moreno
Meet Northern Michigan’s Joy Creator, Heather Spooner
Meet Northern Michigan’s Alchemist, Geri Lefebre
Meet Northern Michigan’s Conservationist, Liz Petrella McKellar