(CNN) — A new US quarter featuring the late Maya Angelou went into circulation Monday, the US Mint announced, making the legendary poet and activist the first Black woman ever to appear on the coin.
The Maya Angelou quarter is the first in the American Women Quarters Program, which will include coins featuring prominent women in American history. Other quarters in the series will begin rolling out later this year and through 2025, the Mint said in a release on Monday.
“Each time we redesign our currency, we have the chance to say something about our country — what we value, and how we’ve progressed as a society,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a separate statement. “I’m very proud that these coins celebrate the contributions of some of America’s most remarkable women, including Maya Angelou.”
The new coin still features George Washington’s visage on the “heads” side, while the “tails” side honors Angelou by evoking one of her most famous works, the autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
Lawmakers cheered the release of the new coin on Monday and credited Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, with the achievement. Lee introduced the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020, which passed in January 2021 and ultimately paved the way for the creation of these new coins.
“The phenomenal women who shaped American history have gone unrecognized for too long — especially women of color,” Lee said in a tweet. “Proud to have led this bill to honor their legacies.”
The US Mint invited the public to submit names of women they view as American icons. The bureau welcomed entries of women known for their work in civil rights, science and the arts, among other areas, with an emphasis on women from “ethnically, racially and geographically diverse backgrounds.” The only requirement was that the women who appear on the coins must be deceased.
The agency will issue four other quarters this year, with the others honoring Sally Ride, an astronaut who was the first American woman in space; Asian American actress Anna May Wong; Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller and suffragette and politician Nina Otero-Warren.