Women’s Suffrage Celebrated Through Coins and Medals

By Stephanie Meredith
April 21, 2020

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. The U.S. Mint honors this anniversary with a Women’s Suffrage Centennial commemorative coin and silver medal. Millions of suffragists worked for decades organizing rallies, petitions, publications, and protests before a federal amendment succeeded in 1920.

The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemorative Coin was designed by Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) artist Christina Hess and sculpted by U.S. Mint Medallic Artist Phebe Hemphill. The obverse features three women wearing different types of hats that symbolize the decades the suffrage movement spanned.

The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Silver Medal will be sold as a set with the commemorative coin. The obverse, designed by AIP artist Beth Zaiken and sculpted by Medallic Artist Renata Gordon, features women and children’s hands holding up a “foundation” stone. The design refers to women’s suffrage extending across generations. The reverse, designed by AIP artist Patricia Lucas-Morris and sculpted by Gordon, includes the words of the 19th Amendment that these generations fought for.

The Fight for Women’s Suffrage

The early 19th century brought American women out of the home and into the public sphere through their involvement in reform movements such as abolitionism and temperance. Speaking their thoughts in public and defending themselves against those that viewed their actions as offensive led to an increasing awareness that they needed to fight for their rights. The 1840s brought a surge of women’s rights activism: lectures, publications, and petitions.

In 1848, a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, drew about 300 participants. They voted on and approved a ‘Declaration of Sentiments’ calling for basic rights, including to own property, control their own money, earn an equal wage, divorce, and vote. The Seneca Falls Convention would later be considered the start of the women’s suffrage movement, even though it built on the momentum already in progress.

The 19th century suffragists used tactics such as rallies, publications, petitions, and lobbying at the state and federal level. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention and prominent suffrage leader, wrote the text of a federal amendment that would eventually become the 19th Amendment. It was introduced in Congress in 1878 but failed to pass.

Successes occurred on the state and territory level. In 1869, the territory of Wyoming was the first to grant women the right to vote. Other territories followed their example. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, it entered the Union retaining women’s right to vote. States throughout the West passed full or partial voting rights for women.

A new century brought a new generation of suffrage leaders. In 1900, Carrie Chapman Catt took over leadership of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the largest suffrage organization and previously led by Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The NAWSA concentrated on petitioning and lobbying state legislatures for continued success in passing local suffrage laws.

Alice Paul led the more militant National Woman’s Party (NWP) focusing on a federal suffrage amendment. In 1913, she organized a parade through Washington, DC, which brought together thousands of suffragists from across the country.

Paul and the NWP picketed the White House in 1917 and 1918, holding banners with messages to President Woodrow Wilson. They stood there day after day, no matter the weather and no matter how many people harassed them. Many were jailed in workhouses where they participated in hunger strikes. Finally, their tactics worked to both gain public support and force Wilson to support the federal amendment.

In 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment. It was ratified on August 18, 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state needed for ratification. On August 26, the amendment became law and the long fight for suffrage was won, although true victory didn’t come until the 1965 Voting Rights Act protected African American women voters.

Suffragists on Coins

Susan B. Anthony $1 Coin

1999 Susan B. Anthony Dollar Obverse

Susan B. Anthony appeared as the first woman on a circulating coin in 1979. The Mint produced the Susan B. Anthony $1 Coin until 1981 and again in 1999.

Anthony devoted her life to women’s suffrage. She met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 and they struck up a partnership and lifelong friendship. Anthony traveled around the country giving speeches written by Stanton. They led the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and dominated the suffrage movement in second half of the 19th century.

In 1900, Anthony passed leadership of the NAWSA to Carrie Chapman Catt. Anthony died six years later, never seeing the passage of the 19th Amendment, known to many at the time as the “Anthony Amendment.”

Alice Paul Suffragist First Spouse Gold Coin

2012 First Spouse Gold Coin Alice Paul Suffragette Uncirculated Obverse

Alice Paul appeared on a gold coin as part of the First Spouse Gold Coin Program. Since President Chester Arthur was a widow, the program honored Paul, who was born during his term.

Paul was a second-generation suffragist. She grew up attending events with her mother. While studying in England, Paul got involved in the British women’s suffrage movement. The British suffragettes waged a more militant fight than the Americans, organizing protests, picketing, and hunger strikes. Paul returned to America and joined the NAWSA hoping to use these tactics. Paul broke from the NAWSA to form the more radical National Woman’s Party.

After the 19th Amendment became law, Paul turned her attention to full gender equality. She wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that guaranteed equal rights and protection to women. It was first introduced in 1923, but it wasn’t until 1972 that Congress passed the amendment. But by its 1982 deadline, the ERA was still three states short of ratification.

Alice Paul continued to fight for women’s rights in America and the world until her death in 1977.

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