Put women where they belong, back on coins

1897 Silver Liberty one dollar coin.

Remember when all of the U.S. coins had an image of a woman, garlands or eagles, but no men? You would have to be either 150 years old or a numismatist to know such trivia. As early as 1791 there were designs to put the first President image on coins. George Washington rejected this idea as too monarchial since we had just fought and won a war with a King that had his face on coins.

Coins are for Kings

With Washington’s sentiments becoming the accepted national ideology U.S. coins would be dominated by images of lady liberty and eagles for the next 100 years. The mythology surrounding liberty represented by a woman is many centuries old. At a time when freedom and independence was prominent in the minds of men who had sacrificed so much during the revolution the celebration of liberty on coins made perfect sense.

Here are the dates when the denominations lost the image liberty on the obverse-

Copper one cent: 1856 changed to flying eagle, 1859 Indian Head, 1909 Lincoln

1987 Indian Head penny. Even though it has head dress, the image is awfully feminine.

Nickel five cent: 1883 added image of lady liberty, 1913 changed to Indian Head, 1938 Jefferson

Silver dime: 1946 changed to Roosevelt

Silver quarter dollar: 1932 changed to Washington

Silver half dollar: 1948 changed to Franklin, 1964 Kennedy

Dollar: last issued with liberty in 1935, clad dollar reintroduced in 1971 with Eisenhower.

No coin designed for circulation was to have a woman’s image reintroduced after 1935 until the minting of the Susan B. Anthony dollar in 1979.

He never said, “Give me women or give me death.”

I don’t think men were any more gratuitous towards women in 1796 as they were later when they added the image of liberty to the nickel. Most men held an opinion of women’s worth slightly above that of slave status. In some religions, in lieu of owning slaves, men just married multiple women to handle more work on the homestead. Then as now, the ideal of lost liberty will stir men to at least attend a rally, if not join a military force.

Men on coins is macho

It took 44 years from the assassination of Lincoln before congress authorized his imageon a coin.

1897 silver quarter dollar with image of liberty.

Roosevelt got his image on the dime within two years of his death. It was less than a year after Kennedy’s assignation that his bust made it on to the half dollar. By 1948 all the most popular coins American’s used in daily commerce had changed to dead white guys. America went from holding an “ideal” in high esteem to hero worship of dead leaders.

How do you really feel?

The big sociological question for me has been, “How has the loss of a prominent female image on common currency affected societies view of women?” It would be a stretch to theorize that a generic image of a female was some how a role model for women. However, placing the image of a man, woman, or animal on circulated coins confers a certain amount of recognition that the image, if not the person or ideal, is to be respected and revered. Of course, it has only been with the widespread replacement of the female image on coins that women’s rights started to be codified in law: woman’s suffrage, Roe vs. Wade, Title IX, etc.

I met liberty on a street one evening

All of this occurred to me while talking to Louise Thompson on a busy sidewalk in mid-town

1897 Nickel with liberty image.

Sacramento. I think it was a combination of her flowing hair and her views on freedom and knowledge that reminded me of the concept of liberty on our currency. I doubt that adding the image of a stately female embodying liberty on coins would necessarily change any of the social problems we face today.

But I can’t help wondering if we would have continued to emblazoned our currency with an “ideal”, rather than paying homage to a man, if that would have slowed our descent into this heightened political division we are now facing. No one argues with the picture of a beautiful woman hanging in your house. When you change that picture to a dead president, the political inferences start boiling over. Yep, it’s time to put women back on money or on our credit cards.

  • Gerry*Wendel (@modlandUSA)

    What about the Sacagawea dollar?

    • Kevin Knauss

      They have been minting the Sacagewa dollar since 2000. It is beautiful and one of my favorites. Unfortunately, the Sacagawea dollar never got on with the public and vending machines. I am not sure where all the production goes except to collectors. It’s probably all moot as we move closer to all electronic money with smart phones and credit cards.

  • Cricket

    The warped view of the past, that women were treated as little more than slaves is ridiculous. All members of the working class were treated this way, men and women alike.
    That LIberty is almost always viewed as a women indicates, at least in the abstract, superior status, not inferior.

    • Kevin Knauss

      You are correct that there were serious distinctions between the classes. But I still contend that women were afforded equal status, such as voting, because they were seen as particularly inferior. The image of a women representing liberty was not a compliment but a conquest. Liberty was like the elusive beautiful woman of a man’s fantasy that he could never really find in the real world.