In 1979, at the height of the so-called “women’s movement” in America, a dollar coin was issued featuring the image of the feminist suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony. The coin so closely resembled the 25-cent piece that detractors dubbed it “Carter’s quarter,” after the then-president.
The coin never caught on. Beyond its confusion with the quarter, using it for a tip seemed chintzier than handing a parking lot attendant a real dollar bill. It wasn’t practical to put Anthony dollars in a birthday card for a child. Some people didn’t like them because they just hated the idea of a feminist being commemorated in the first place.
By 1981, the Anthony dollar joined the Dwight D. Eisenhower dollar coin in currency oblivion after the US Mint stopped making them.
Almost 20 years later, in 1999, the Mint struck a gold-colored dollar coin with the likeness of Sacagawea, the Native American woman who played such a major role in the Lewis and Clark expedition. Though these coins have been in circulation for more than six years, I saw one for the first time just last week — which speaks to their popularity, or lack of it.
These coins weren’t spotted in a bank, nor did I receive them as change for a purchase. Instead, I got more than eight dollars in them from a subway machine in Boston. So there I stood with one token and a handful of Susan B. Anthonys and Sacagaweas.
According to the US Mint Web site (www.usmint.gov), these dollar coins are primarily used as change, in fact, in US post offices and mass transportation facilities.
Our money constitutes a gallery of dead white men. Even though any number of minorities and women, both white and of color, have made tremendous contributions to this nation, the mint hasn’t been able to move beyond our forefathers.
Despite recent updating of some of our bills, the images remained the same. It seems not to occur to government to issue currency with the likeness, say, of Caesar Chavez or Rosa Parks. I’ll tell you one thing: if we ever do have such a coin or a bill, the black and Latino communities will never stand for a recall like the one that shamed the Anthony dollar.
No Dwight D. Eisenhower dollar coins showed up in my change, nor does the US Mint say that they are used for that purpose. I guess Ike’s dollar coins just got a decent burial, while Susan Bs and Sacagaweas are destined to endlessly wander as loose change.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see the nation’s diversity reflected in our currency any time soon. Women and minorities appear on commemorative stamps, but there is still no room for them on the almighty dollar or, heaven forbid, the $20 bill.