Six Women Who Have Led the United States Mint

By Sharon McPike
March 18, 2015

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we would like to highlight the six female directors of the United States Mint. Here are their stories:

Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming — May 1933 to April 1953

Nellie Tayloe Ross (1876-1977) was the first woman appointed Mint Director and is the longest-termed Mint Director, serving 20 years (1933-1953). Appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ross served five Secretaries of the Treasury: William Woodin, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Fred Vinson, John Snyder, and George Humphrey. Her four consecutive 5-year terms spanned the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War. Nellie Tayloe Ross was a descendent of John Tayloe who built the Octagon house in Washington, D.C. and convinced others to build homes and live in the new capital rather than in Georgetown. James and Dolley Madison lived in the Octagon House after the British burned the White House in August 1814. Mrs. Ross was also descended from Patty Ball, a cousin of George Washington, and was the first woman elected Governor in the United States, serving in Wyoming (1925-1927).

During her 20-year tenure as Mint Director, Mrs. Ross was responsible for several innovations in coinage manufacture, the construction of three new buildings, and management of a greatly expanded bureau due to an increase in business in the mid-1930s. Increased demand at the end of the Depression and the entrance of America into World War II forced the Mint into operating 24 hour, seven days a week. Mrs. Ross managed the hiring of hundreds of new employees, as the number of employees rose to 4,000 – the largest number ever working at the Mint at one time. She also oversaw the construction of three new Mint facilities and was the first woman to have her name on the corner stone of three government buildings – the new mint at San Francisco (1937), the silver depository at West Point, New York (1938) and the gold depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky (1936).

In the early 1950s, a management improvement program in operating procedures led to revolutionary results in the manufacturing processes of coinage.  Mrs. Ross expanded the program of proof coins in 1936 and restored the production of proof coins in 1950 after manufacturing of proof coins had been halted during the war.

Mrs. Ross managed the production of the zinc-coated steel penny and five-cent pieces with reduced copper, nickel and manganese to save vital metals during the war.  The Jefferson nickel (1938) designed by engraver Felix Schlag and the Roosevelt dime (1946) designed by mint Chief Engraver John Sinnock were engraved, minted and released during her administration.  The U.S. Mint’s medal department was also greatly expanded to accommodate the production of several million military combat awards and decorations that honored the heroic actions by the American military in World War II.

Eva Bertrand Adams, L.L.D. L.L.M. of Nevada — October 1961 to August 1969

Appointed by President John F. Kennedy as the 30th Director of the Mint, and re-appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Eva Adams (1908-1991) was the second woman chosen to be Mint Director. Ms. Adams, who earned a master’s degree and two law degrees and served as Assistant Dean of Women at the University of Nevada, was the fourth Mint Director to come from government service and the second Mint Director to work on Capitol Hill (having worked for many years as the Administrative Assistant to three Nevada Senators). Ms. Adams was directly responsible for managing the planning, design, and construction of the fourth Philadelphia Mint and she dealt with a major coin shortage, managing the production and transition to clad coinage. Eva Adams received Treasury’s prestigious Exceptional Service Award for providing the Secretary of the Treasury with the basis for sound policy determination, for furnishing Congress with information needed to take action, for the new Philadelphia Mint, for her efficient management in meeting the coin shortage and producing clad coins, and for maintaining the high morale of Mint employees.

At the time Eva Adams came into office in the fall of 1961, the Mint was producing three billion coins a year, more coins than at any previous period in U.S. history. In late 1963, a coin shortage arose that would last into 1965 and Congress authorized a new design for the fifty-cent piece on December 30, 1963, to honor slain President John F. Kennedy. To meet overwhelming demand, Eva Adams placed the mints on a 24-hour, seven day a week schedule, oversaw a crash program which doubled coin production through the addition of 100 coinage presses to augment the 60 already in operation, contracted with private industry to make strips, and used the Department of Defense’s Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia for annealing and cleaning bronze blanks. All operating divisions were expanded to handle the accelerated operations. The small San Francisco Assay Office was restored to full-scale minting operations, manufacturing blanks in September 1964 and then producing coins in September 1965. The Carson City Mint’s 88-year old coin press was brought out of retirement in September 1964 and shipped to Denver to manufacture coins and the Denver Mint building was expanded by adding a basement and a one-story addition. As a result of the crash program, 12 billion coins (4.3 billion coins in FY 1964 and 7.2 billion coins in FY 1965) were produced between July 1964 and February 1966.

On August 23, 1963, Congress also approved the construction and equipment of a new mint. At the formal request of the Treasury Department, the City of Philadelphia set aside a 5.3 acre tract at Fifth and Arch Streets, in an urban renewal area downtown near Independence Hall. Questioned on the choice of the site, Eva Adams wrote a letter to Congress on October 26, 1965 and asserted: “Treasury and GSA have done a great deal of soul-searching in the past few months; have given the problem a thorough analysis and are convinced selection of the Independence Mall site was the proper one.” Ground was broken on September 17, 1965, and construction began on October 1, 1965. A cornerstone laying ceremony was held on September 18, 1968 and the formal dedication opening the new facility was held on August 14, 1969.

During Director Adams’ tenure, a world silver shortage caused Treasury to suspend all sales of silver to industrial and artistic users in November of 1961. Director Adams worked with Treasury, other officials and a private consulting firm, to formulate a plan which would free large amounts of silver used in coinage for other uses. After two years of comprehensive studies, the decision was made to switch America’s circulating coinage from silver to clad. The Coinage Act of 1965 was the first major change in American coinage since 1792, and exactly one month after its enactment on July 23, the Philadelphia Mint began striking our country’s first composite coins.

Proof coins and uncirculated sets were temporarily discontinued during this period so that machinery could be diverted to making circulating coins. In 1965, after the coin shortage crisis had eased, special mint sets with better quality than circulating coins (but not as fine as proofs) were issued until 1967. Retention of the date 1964 was permitted by Congress and dating of coins with the current year was not resumed until January 1, 1967. Finally, in 1968, the Mint returned to its proof and uncirculated set service.

Mary T. Brooks of Idaho — September 1969 to February 1977

Appointed by President Richard M. Nixon the 31st Director of the Mint, and reappointed to a second five-year term as one of his last official acts, Mary Brooks (1907-2002) was the third woman to hold the post and the first Mint Director to be appointed from the important mining state of Idaho. Mrs. Brooks was Vice Chairman of the Republican National Committee, a state legislator in Idaho, and a sheep rancher before being named to the post at the U.S. Mint. On January 17, 1977, Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon presented the Alexander Hamilton Award to Mary Brooks for her “imaginative and innovative leadership.” The award is Treasury’s highest honor and Mary Brooks was the first woman to receive it.

Director Brooks brought the opening operations of the new Philadelphia Mint facility to their completion. She had the seven Tiffany favrile glass mosaic panels removed from the third Mint on Spring Garden Street, cleaned, and rehung in the lobby of the new Mint. In 1972 their value was $420,000. She also planned to construct a new Denver Mint but the project was never approved by Congress. Like her predecessors, George E. Roberts and Eva Adams, Director Brooks visited several foreign mints to acquaint herself with overseas developments. In 1971 she attended the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Royal Japanese Mint in Osaka. She was the only woman present other than the Crown Princess and the only foreign mint director.

Mary Brooks was the first Mint Director to extensively use computers in the distribution of Mint products. Computer cycling of proof set orders made it possible to nearly triple the number of customers in 1970. She introduced the initial phases of a greatly expanded numismatic service to better acquaint the public with the Mint’s programs, and she inaugurated a youth program to attract the interest of young collectors. Director Brooks also opened three exhibit halls – one in the Treasury Building in Washington that included a stack of gold bars, one in Denver, and one in the old San Francisco Mint.

New silver legislation once again impacted on the Mint’s production. On December 31, 1970, a law was enacted which eliminated all silver from the dollar and half-dollar and provided for coinage made of the cupro-nickel clad compositions. In 1971, a likeness of President Dwight Eisenhower appeared on the dollar coin and in 1975 coin designs honoring the Bicentennial of the American Revolution appeared on the reverse of three clad coins – the quarter, half-dollar, and dollar. The reverse of the quarter carried the design of a colonial drummer, the reverse of the 50-cent piece Independence Hall, and the reverse of the dollar a combination of the Liberty Bell and the moon. The designs were chosen in a national competition. The national coinage salute to the Bicentennial began with Mint Director Brooks officiating with Federal Reserve Bank officials at the ceremonial release of the 50-cent piece on July 7, 1975; the release of the Bicentennial quarter on August 18, 1975; and the release of the dollar on October 13, 1975. Proof coins of the dollar were presented to Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower by Mrs. Brooks. It was the first time designs on circulating coins had been changed to honor an anniversary of American Independence.

One of Director Brooks’ most significant projects was the restoration of the old San Francisco Mint. Designed by Treasury’s Supervising Architect Alfred B. Mullett, the old Mint is the only structure of its kind in the West, styled in Federal Greek Revival architecture. In 1972, this national landmark was returned to the custody of the Treasury Department for restoration by the Bureau of the Mint for use by the federal government and the public. Mrs. Brooks restored the “Granite Lady,” salvaged valuable antique Victorian furniture which had been made especially for the old San Francisco Mint, and returned it to use in her office and the Secretary’s office as an historic reminder of the past. The restored building housed the Numismatic Service Division and modern computer data processing equipment. In June 1972, Mint Director Brooks received a plaque from the California Heritage Council for the preservation of the old San Francisco Mint. In 1974 the Bureau of the Mint produced an award-winning documentary film, “The Granite Lady,” on the history of and the restoration of the old mint.

Stella Hackel Sims of Vermont — November 1977 to April 1981

Appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the 32nd Director of the Mint, Stella Hackel was the fourth woman to be appointed to the position. Ms. Hackel had been in state and local government and was the first woman elected Treasurer of the state of Vermont before being appointed to the Mint. One of Stella Hackel’s greatest challenges during her tenure at the helm of the United States Mint was managing the production and distribution of the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin.

On October 10, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed into law an amendment to the Coinage Act of 1965, authorizing a new design on the clad dollar coin and specifying that the obverse shall bear the likeness of Susan B. Anthony and the reverse the symbolic eagle of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. This would be the first time a woman, other than a mythical figure, had appeared on a circulating U.S. coin. Designed by Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro, the first Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was struck at the Philadelphia Mint on December 13, 1978.

Two problems plagued the Susan B. Anthony dollar, it was confused for the quarter and failed to gain widespread acceptance by the American public. Within 10 months of the release of the coin, in October 1979, Director Hackel was criticized at the American Bankers Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bankers felt that they would be blamed for the public’s unwillingness to accept the new coin, while merchants and retailers returned the coins to the bank rather than give it out to their customers. Stella Hackel told the bankers that they had “to change acquired habits.” Production of Susan B. Anthony dollar coins was suspended in 1981 and no more were produced during Director Hackel’s term.

Director Hackel’s term also saw the end of the annual Assay Commission, originally established on April 2, 1792. Before the Commission was abolished (since circulating coins no longer contained precious metals), the Mint laboratory on the top floor of the Treasury building continued to provide technical expertise on the authenticity of U.S. coins. Coins were also examined for the Secret Service. The old San Francisco Mint received an award for providing computer support to other government agencies. And the Mint began to produce the medal series honoring the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court.

Donna Pope of Ohio — July 1981 to August 1991

Appointed by President Ronald Reagan to two five-year terms as the 33rd Director of the Mint, Donna Pope was the fifth woman Mint Director and the fifth longest termed Director, serving for 10 years and one month. She was in the Ohio state legislature where she was elected the first minority whip prior to being appointed as Mint Director.

During Donna Pope’s term several operations and facilities were shut down, in part because of the Reagan Administration’s spending reductions. Her first year in office, the Mint’s budget was cut by 16 percent. In September 1981, melting operations ceased at the New York Assay office and gold refining was discontinued in preparation for the closing of the office. The New York Assay Office was closed on December 30, 1982 after 130 years of operation. Production of in-house strip was shut done at the Philadelphia Mint in 1982. The Mint Data Center in the old San Francisco Mint was closed down and the computer support operations were brought to headquarters in Washington. In 1984 and 1985, expansion was undertaken at the Denver Mint after Congress failed to authorize the purchase of a new building. In 1985, the Mint’s Headquarters in Washington, D.C., moved from the Warner Building at 13th and Pennsylvania Avenue to the Judiciary Square Building at 633 3rd Street, NW because the new location had a modern telecommunications capability. To acknowledge the greater amount of coinage operations taking place in the West, the assay office at San Francisco was officially given Mint status again by Congress on the March 31, 1988.

Like her predecessor Frank A. Leach, Director Pope also moved gold from San Francisco to the Denver vaults. More than 3 million troy ounces of gold was shipped on August 27, 1983, in a convoy of military planes.

Mint Director Pope also oversaw the change in the composition of the penny. She later admitted that the change was made quickly, without a lot of public awareness. Faced with a looming penny shortage, Donna Pope managed the work begun by her predecessor to make the penny a copper plated zinc coin, consisting of 97.6 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper, reversing the amount of copper in the coin.

Mrs. Pope was instrumental in the renewal of the Mint’s commemorative coin program and issued the first commemorative coin since 1954. The highly successful American Eagle Bullion program also began under Director Pope. In general, her focus on public sale of limited-edition coins minted for collectors and investors generated profits for the Mint. During her tenure, Director Pope managed the American Arts Gold Medallion program, oversaw the Statute of Liberty/Ellis Island commemorative coin, and produced the 1987 Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution commemorative coin set. The Eisenhower Centennial commemorative program saw the production of a silver dollar coin. And in her last year in office, the Mint produced the Korean War Memorial commemorative silver dollar. Mint Director Pope established the United States Mint’s Historian’s Office to provide research on the Mint and its various products. Director Pope was the first woman to visit the Soviet Mint and she introduced technological improvements to the Mint in the late 1980s with the testing and installation of automated die blank manufacturing processes and testing automatic die polishers and coin stackers.

Henrietta Holsman Fore of Nevada — August 2001 to August 2005

Appointed by President George W. Bush the 37th Director of the Mint, Ms. Fore was the second Mint Director appointed from the mining state of Nevada. Director Fore emphasized that “the United States Mint must overcome a significant challenge: the continuing decline in demand for circulating coinage.” During her term, circulating coin production decreased from 15 billion circulating coins in Fiscal Year 2002 to 11.4 billion in FY 2003, rising slightly to 13.5 billion in FY 2004, but that increase was 10 billion coins less than it had been just three years earlier. In response, the Mint continued to improve and streamline its manufacturing operations to reduce the cost of circulating coinage by seizing every opportunity to automate and standardize operations, incorporating the best business practices of supply chain management, and lowering transportation costs. New coin press equipment was acquired and new equipment was purchased to destroy damaged coins. The Mint reduced circulating cycle time in half from 300 days to 108 days and down to 73 days in 2003. Direct shipments of strips and blanks to the Philadelphia Mint by suppliers enabled the Mint to give up a warehouse and save $2 million in FY 2002. The Mint’s Customer Care Center was relocated to agency headquarters. An Automated Data Collection System was implemented to manage materials and labor hours, and an Automated Shipping Transaction system sped up the management of coin shipments to the Federal Reserve Bank. Despite these efforts, production costs were still affected by rising metals prices as nickel rose 68 percent, copper rose 60 percent, and zinc rose 28 percent between 2003 and 2004. Silver again became an issue for the Mint. The Support of the American Eagle Silver Bullion Program Act authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase silver in the open market because the Defense Logistics Agency’s Strategic and Critical Materials silver stockpile had been depleted. Mint Director Fore began a comprehensive coinage material study to review and consider cost effective alternative materials for current and future coin denominations.

The 50 State Quarters Program continued to be the Mint’s most popular single coin product in its history. More than 130 million Americans were collecting these new coins and new sales records were set with commemorative coin products. In 2003 the Mint ranked as the number one government agency among the top ten private companies on the American Customer Satisfaction Index – an unprecedented achievement for a federal agency.

The year 2002 was marked by the sale of an Augustus Saint Gaudens Walking Liberty gold Double Eagle Coin for $6.6 million to an anonymous bidder. The Mint made headlines with the sale and the story of the first and only Double Eagle issued by the United States Mint. The coin, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, had just become the world’s most valuable coin. An historic out-of-court settlement in 2001 allowed the auction at Sotheby’s to take place in New York City in July 2002. Mint Director Fore monetized the coin and made its sale legal. Profit from the sales was split between the coin dealer and the Mint, and the Mint turned $3 million over to the Treasury as a miscellaneous receipt.

Like several of her predecessors, Director Fore took a hands-on interest in coin design. The Artistic Infusion Program was created in 2003 to further enrich and invigorate coin designs. A precedent-setting program, it created a pool of 40 accomplished artists who submit designs for selected coins and medals. By 2004, 24 artists, six students and 18 professionals, had been selected for the program. In addition, Director Fore began a Renaissance of Coin Design, beginning with the redesign of the nickel, the first change to the coin since 1938. The Westward Journey Nickel Series™ featured a new design of Thomas Jefferson and commemorated the bicentennial of the of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Director Fore served as Vice President of the International Mint Directors Conference in 2003 and as President in 2004. She was only the second woman to serve as president in the MDC’s 42-year history. During Mrs. Fore’s term several notable medals and commemorative coins were produced by the Mint, including the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the bicentennial of the Military Academy at West Point, and four Congressional Gold Medals honoring Dr. Dorothy Height (which was produced in a record nine days so that it could be presented on her birthday), the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, Pope John Paul II and Charles Schultz.

Following the tragedy of 9/11, the Denver and Philadelphia Mints were closed to visitors and security was increased to protect the Mint’s $102 billion worth of gold and silver reserves. The Denver Mint reopened to visitors on June 21, 2002 and Philadelphia welcomed visitors again on September 5, 2003. Mint Police training was expanded to include weapons of mass destruction and civil disturbances, police salaries were increased 11 percent, all employees received emergency evacuation training, and Mint security equipment was updated. Site specific efficiency measures on protection and safety, based on employee suggestions, saved the mint $3.5 million in FY 2004.

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