Tag Archives: women’s suffrage

Numismatics and the 19th Amendment Centennial

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.

Figure 1: “Votes for Women” badge worn by suffragettes. (ANS 1919.83.106, gift of J. Sanford Saltus, http://numismatics.org/collection/1919.83.106)
Figure 1: “Votes for Women” badge worn by suffragettes. (ANS 1919.83.106, gift of J. Sanford Saltus)

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.

Figure 2: Leila Woodman Usher with bas relief of Susan B. Anthony.
Figure 2: Leila Woodman Usher with bas relief of Susan B. Anthony.

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).

Figure 3: Bronze Susan B. Anthony medal of 1920 designed by Leila Woodman Usher, issued by the National Women’s Suffrage Association, and struck by the Medallic Art Co. (ANS 1985.81.13, http://numismatics.org/collection/1985.81.13)
Figure 3: Bronze Susan B. Anthony medal of 1920 designed by Leila Woodman Usher, issued by the National Women’s Suffrage Association, and struck by the Medallic Art Co. (ANS 1985.81.13)

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).

Figure 4: Bronze Alice Paul medal of 2012 designed by Susan Gamble and sculpted by Phebe Hemphill, struck by the United State Mint. (ANS 2013.53.8, http://numismatics.org/collection/2013.53.8)
Figure 4: Bronze Alice Paul medal of 2012 designed by Susan Gamble and sculpted by Phebe Hemphill, struck by the United State Mint. (ANS 2013.53.8)

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).

Figure 5: The Women’s Suffrage Centennial 2020 Proof Silver Dollar. Photo courtesy the United State Mint.
Figure 5: The Women’s Suffrage Centennial 2020 Proof Silver Dollar. Photo courtesy the United State Mint.

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).

Figure 6: The Women’s Suffrage Centennial 2020 Proof Silver Medal. Photo courtesy the United State Mint.
Figure 6: The Women’s Suffrage Centennial 2020 Proof Silver Medal. Photo courtesy the United State Mint.

On this most important day, let’s salute the women who came before us and stand strong for the women following in our footsteps.

Westport’s Suffragists Exhibit

United States. Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). Commemorative Bronze Medal. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at the New York University, by Paul Fjelde. 1962. (ANS 2001.11.13, gift of Donald Oresman)
United States. Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). Commemorative Bronze Medal. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at the New York University, by Paul Fjelde. 1962. (ANS 2001.11.13, gift of Donald Oresman)

The movement for women’s suffrage rights in the United States had a long history before it achieved success in the twentieth century. The first unsuccessful attempt to offer a universal suffrage amendment in Congress came in 1868. The next was in 1878, an effort led by California Senator Aaron A. Sargent. Although his bill was rejected, it would later be introduced every year for the next 41 years, with women aggressively lobbying Congress to approve it throughout this period. In 1913 hundreds of activists marched into the Capitol chanting, “We want action now!” By 1916, both the Democratic and the Republican party platforms supported women’s suffrage, and in 1919 a women’s suffrage bill was approved by Congress. It was ratified by three-fourths of the states in 1920. Though the 19th amendment was a gender-neutral document, which declared that, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi waited over 40 more years to accept it.

United States. Susan B. Anthony. Cupronickel/Copper Commemorative Dollar. San Francisco mint. 1979. (ANS 1983.156.41, from the estate of D. J. Fleischer)
United States. Susan B. Anthony. Cupronickel/Copper Commemorative Dollar. San Francisco mint. 1979. (ANS 1983.156.41, from the estate of D. J. Fleischer)

Many women worked to win the vote for women, but a few stand out as particularly influential and crucial. One of the leading figures of the suffrage movement in United States was Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), and the 19th amendment is also known as the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” in recognition of her work on behalf of women’s rights (ANS 2001.11.13). On July 2, 1979, she became the first (non-mythical) woman to be featured on a circulating coin from the U.S. mint (ANS 1983.156.41).

http://numismatics.org/collection/1914.33.1
United States. Bronze award medal, “Better Babies”, awarded by the Woman’s Home Companion, by Laura Gardin Fraser, 1913. (ANS 1914.33.1, gift of Medallic Art Co.)

This year, many local public organizations in the United States are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. Among them is the Westport Library in Connecticut, which in February opened the exhibit, Westport’s Suffragists—Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders: The 19th Amendment Turns 100. One important object in this show is a medal on loan from the ANS that was designed by Laura Gardin Fraser—sculptor, suffragist, and Westporter. It is a bronze example of the Better Babies medal awarded by the Woman’s Home Companion magazine (ANS 1914.33.1 and Photo).

Photograph of Laura Gardin Fraser working on the model for the Better Babies medal.
Photograph of Laura Gardin Fraser working on the model for the Better Babies medal.

Laura Gardin Fraser (1889–1966) sculpted everything from coins to larger-than-life monuments. She became the first woman to design a United States coin for national circulation when in 1926 she partnered with her sculptor husband James Earle Fraser to create the Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar. In 1931, she won a competition to design the United States George Washington Bicentennial Medal. The medal served as a souvenir for the celebration of Washington’s 200th birthday in 1933 and also as a prize for a variety of contests in schools across the country. The Westport Library exhibition focuses on the local suffragists of Westport, who helped change the course of history for American women of all succeeding generations, and is therefore a fitting contribution to the nation’s centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th amendment.