The following post was written by Mary N. Lannin, who is on the Board of Trustees of the American Numismatic Society and has been a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee since 2014, serving as its Chair from 2015–2018.
One hundred years ago today, a remarkable event occurred. The voting population of the United States doubled with the passage of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. And now it’s time to slide open the drawers in the vault of the American Numismatic Society and see what numismatic objects we have to commemorate this anniversary.
Many of the creators or sculptors of the 800,000+ objects in our collection are anonymous because we are separated from them by hundreds or thousands of years. This badge, in silver with a gold-colored ribbon (fig. 1), was worn by an unknown suffragette and is a typical example of that which was created during the long fight for the passage of this amendment. J. Sanford Saltus, the early and important benefactor to the American Numismatic Society, donated the badge in 1919.
However, women have comprised a small but growing percentage of sculptors, coin designers and medalists and we can find numismatic evidence on coins and medals done by women for women in saluting these suffrage efforts. Wisconsin-born Leila Woodman Usher (1859–1955), for instance, studied under Augustus Saint-Gaudens and one of her most famous bas-relief portraits was this portrait of suffragist Susan B. Anthony (fig. 2). In a similar medal also designed by Usher, Anthony’s determined visage is on the obverse, and the famous quote—“Failure Is Impossible”, surrounded by oak leaves, is on the reverse (fig. 3).
Alice Stokes Paul (1885–1977) is seen on this United States Mint medal. Although Paul never married, she became part of the US Mint’s First Spouse Gold Coin series, paired with Chester A. Arthur, a widower. Born during Arthur’s administration, Paul was picketing the White House when President Wilson urged Congress to vote for the 19th amendment. Proudly wearing the banner “Votes for Women” and carrying the American flag, Stokes marches forcefully across the reverse. The coin and medal were designed by Susan Gamble and sculpted by Phebe Hemphill for the US Mint (fig. 4).
To commemorate today’s historic occasion, the United States Mint has released the Women’s Suffrage Centennial 2020 Silver Dollar. Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) designer, Christina Hess, and sculptor, Phebe Hemphill, have crafted a jaunty obverse, illustrated by three generations of women, each wearing a hat appropriate to the era, which subtly reminds us that the passage to the amendment encompassed years and generations. The inscriptions “LIBERTY,” “$1,” and “E PLURIBUS UNUM” encircle the design. The reverse design, also by Hess and Hemphill, shows “2020” being dropped into a ballot box, styled with art deco elements popular in 1920. “VOTES FOR WOMEN” is inscribed inside a circle on the front of the box. The inscriptions “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” are on the ballot box (fig. 5).
A special silver medal, available only in a set with the proof silver dollar and medal set, evokes the struggle women then and now face for equality. The obverse of the medal, designed by AIP artist, Beth Zaiken, and sculpted by Renata Gordon, features a child’s hand, reaching to join adult women’s hands and arms as they struggle to hold an enormous stone, with “WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE CENTENNIAL” engraved over it. AIP artist Patricia Lucas-Morris contributed the strong design for the reverse, sculpted by Renata Gordon, juxtaposing the text of the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, with the flag of the United States. The date “1920” is inscribed at the bottom (fig. 6).
On this most important day, let’s salute the women who came before us and stand strong for the women following in our footsteps.