On April 21, the United States Mint officially unveiled the designs for the 2020 Women’s Suffrage Centennial silver dollar and proof silver medal. Each with feature different designs that will be released later this year.
The silver dollar was authorized by Public Law 116-71, the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin Act, which became law on November 25, 2019. The legislation was initially introduced in April of last year in the House of Representatives by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R- N.Y.), while the Senate version was introduced by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).
The Women’s Suffrage coin and medal mark the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that gave 27 million women at the time the right to vote (and a much larger number today) – a seminal moment in American history that was made possible by a long and arduous struggle that involved the dedication and sacrifices of many women and men.
While full equality for women has still not been achieved, such as in terms of pay equity, giving women the right to vote was a crucial step towards meeting that fundamental ideal of the Declaration of Independence.
Women’s Suffrage Movement
The origins of the Women’s Suffrage Movement were the various reform movements of the early 19th century, such as abolitionism and temperance, in which many women became involved. By the 1840s, there was a surge of activism by women that involved lectures, publications, and petitions.
In 1848 a women’s rights convention called the Declaration of Sentiments was held in Seneca Falls, NY, in which 300 participants approved a declaration that said: “all men and women are created equal,” modeling itself after the Declaration of Independence. It called for giving women certain fundamental rights, including the right to own property, and control their financial affairs, earn an equal wage, divorce, and vote. The convention, which was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a prominent suffrage leader at the time, is considered the start of the movement. Stanton wrote the text of the Amendment that would eventually become the 19th Amendment, but when it was first introduced in Congress in 1848, it failed to pass.
In the following years, states and territories across the nation, especially in the West, passed measures giving women either full or partial rights to vote. Then in 1900, Carrie Chapman Catt became the leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWASA), the largest suffrage group that was previously led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
At the time, there was another, more militant group, the National Women’s Party that was led by Alice Paul and focused on supporting a national suffrage movement. Paul organized a massive parade of suffragists in Washington, DC, and picketed the White House to get President Woodrow Wilson to support a federal amendment.
On June 4, 1919, the 19th Amendment passed Congress and was later ratified on August 18, 1920. The measure required two-thirds of the states to approve it, doing so that day when Tennessee became the 36th state to pass it. On August 26, the Amendment became law. However, until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act became law, African-American women were not able to vote.
Susan B. Anthony, who, along with Stanton, led the women’s suffrage movement in the second half of the 19th century and devoted her life to the cause was the first woman to appear on a circulating U.S. coin in 1979 when the first Susan. B. Anthony dollars were issued. They were struck until 1981 and then again in 1999.
For further reading on Susan B. Anthony and her appearance on United States Coinage, read this Coin Authority article.
Alice Paul, who had spent time in Great Britain involving herself in the British women’s suffragette movement that used more militant tactics such as protests and hunger strikes, tried such approaches after she returned to the U.S. She also wrote the text of the Equal Rights Amendment that guaranteed equal rights and protection for women. First introduced in 1923, the ERA was not passed by Congress until 1972. Ten years later, in 1982, which was the deadline required for ratification, it fell three states short of the two-thirds requirement and remains unratified today.
Paul was honored in 2012 with a gold coin in the First Spouse Gold Coin program. She was born during the term of President Chester Arthur, who was a widow.
2020 Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Program
The Women’s Suffrage Centennial silver dollar is being issued not only to commemorate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment but also to increase public awareness about the women’s suffrage movement.
The silver dollar, which will be issued in proof and uncirculated condition with a maximum authorized mintage of 400,000 coins for both versions, features an obverse design that shows three women of different ages and ethnicities wearing different styles of hats, which symbolizes the many decades the movement struggled to work towards the 19th Amendment.
The reverse design shows “2020” being dropped inside a ballot box that is adorned with art deco-style artistic motifs, which were current in 1920. “Votes for Women” appears inside a circle on the front of the box.
The silver dollar was designed by Artistic Infusion Program artists Christina Hess, a painter and illustrator who joined the AIP in 2019 and sculpted by U.S. Mint Medallic Artist Phoebe Hemphill, who has worked on numerous coins for the Mint.
A $10 surcharge is added to the cost of each coin. It will go to the Smithsonian's Women’s History Initiative to fund research on and exhibits about the role of women in American history.
The limited-edition medal will be issued in .999 fine silver. It will only be available in a special set along with a proof example of the silver dollar. The mintage of the set is limited to 10,000 units. The medal features an inspiring obverse design that shows the hands and arms of adult women and a child’s arm reaching to hold up a massive piece of stone that is intended to represent the long struggle for women’s suffrage.
It was designed by AIP artist Beth Zaiken, who joined the AIP in 2019 and sculpted by U.S. Mint Medallic Sculptor Renata Gordon.
The reverse of the medal juxtaposes the text of the 19th Amendment with the U.S. flag. This face of the coin was designed by AIP artist Patricia Lucas-Morris, who also joined the group in 2019 and has previously worked on several coins for the U.S. Mint, and sculpted by Renata Gordon.
The medal will be offered in a bronze version next year.
The Women’s Suffrage coin and medal are fitting tributes to a significant milestone in the evolution of American democracy that should help keep this critical part of our history alive.
As a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Mint has had to reduce the operations of its branch mints, which is delaying the release of forthcoming coins and medals like these. However, they are expected to be issued later this year.
Paul Gilkes, “Mint releases 2020 designs,” Coin World, May 11, 2020
“United States Mint Announces Design for 2020 Women’s Suffrage Centennial Silver Dollar,” U.S. Mint press release, April 21, 2020
“United States Mint Announces design for 2020 Women’s Suffrage Centennial Silver Medal,” U.S. Mint press release, April 21, 2020
Stephanie Meredith, “Women’s Suffrage Celebrated Through Coins and Medals,” www.usmint.gov, April 21, 2020