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U.S. Coin Firsts and Seconds for Women

The obverse of the 2022 Maya Angelou quarter – and all in the American Women Quarter series – was designed by Laura Gardin Fraser. The Maya Angelou reverse design is by Emily Damstra. It marks the first time a coin was designed completely by women to honor a woman. (Images courtesy United States Mint.)

The obverse of the 2022 Maya Angelou quarter – and all in the American Women Quarter series – was designed by Laura Gardin Fraser. The Maya Angelou reverse design is by Emily Damstra. It marks the first time a coin was designed completely by women to honor a woman. (Images courtesy United States Mint.)

The release of the U.S. 2022 Maya Angelou quarter represents several firsts and seconds for women.

It is the first U.S. coin issued for circulation completely designed by women. The obverse was designed by Laura Gardin Fraser, intended to be used on the forthcoming 1932 Washington quarter. The Commission of Fine Arts and the George Washington Bicentennial Committee in 1931 endorsed her design to appear on a new U.S. commemorative half dollar. However, the coin instead became the next circulating quarter.

Then, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon instead chose John Flanagan’s obverse design for this coin. (This was almost certainly not an anti-woman or anti-Fraser reaction as Mellon had already approved multiple previous designs by Fraser that appeared on U.S. commemorative coins in the 1920s.) This obverse design is finally appearing on the Maya Angelou quarter and all succeeding 19 quarters to honor prominent American women.

Coin designer Emily S. Damstra. (Image courtesy United States Mint.)

Coin designer Emily S. Damstra. (Image courtesy United States Mint.)

The reverse design was created by Emily S. Damstra, who has 10 previous US coin designs to her credit, most notably the new reverse design on U.S. silver Eagle dollars that first appeared in mid-2021.

Another first is that this coin is the first U.S. coin to ever be completely designed by women to honor a woman.

As for seconds, Fraser’s obverse design is being used on a U.S. coin for the second time. It was first used in 1999 on the George Washington Death Bicentennial $5 gold commemorative. The Maya Angelou quarter thereby becomes the first U.S. coin to adapted from a commemorative coin issue.

Maya Angelou is also the second woman to appear on a U.S. quarter. The first was Helen Keller on the 2003 Alabama Statehood quarter.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Damstra is also the second person from the state of Michigan to design a U.S. coin. (The first was Steve Bieda, who created the reverse design for the 1992 Olympic half dollar commemorative.) Damstra attended Forest Hills Northern High School in Grand Rapids, Mich. She obtained her Master of Fine Arts degree in Science Illustration from the University of Michigan.

Damstra’s reverse design of the Maya Angelou quarter is her first new U.S. coin design in 2022. Later this year, her second new U.S. coin design of 2022 will be the reverse of the Anna May Wong quarter.

Also, Damstra’s reverse design for the Maya Angelou quarter is her second U.S. coin design to honor a specific American woman. Her first design honored teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe on the 2021 commemorative silver dollar. Note, however, that her first U.S. coin design depicting a specific person was the reverse of the 2019 Native American dollar, which figuratively (because he is still alive and theoretically not eligible to be depicted on a U.S. coin) showed the first Native American astronaut – John Herrington.

When Damstra started creating coin designs as part of the U.S. Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, that became the second nation for which she has designed coins. Since 2012, she has designed 33 different coins for the Royal Canadian Mint.

With all these trail-blazing firsts and seconds for women involved with America’s coins, it is only fitting that the Maya Angelou quarter is issued with Ventris Gibson nominated by President Biden in December 2021 to serve as Director of the United States Mint. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would be the first African-American of either sex to hold the office. Her current titles are Deputy Director and Acting Director of the United States Mint. 

Patrick A. Heller was honored as a 2019 FUN Numismatic Ambassador. He is also the recipient of the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award, 2012 Harry Forman National Dealer of the Year Award and 2008 Presidential Award. Over the years, he has also been honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild (including in 2021 for Best Investment Newsletter), Professional Numismatists Guild, Industry Council for Tangible Assets and the Michigan State Numismatic Society. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at www.libertycoinservice.com. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio archives posted at www.1320wils.com).