The United States has recently started a project recognizing American women’s historical contributions. The name of the project is the American Women Quarters Program, which aims to highlight the different achievements of women.
In 2020, the United States Mint announced the American Women Quarters Program to celebrate and honor 20 women who fought for various rights in American history. The program will run over four years, from 2022 to 2025, with five new designs being released each year.
One of the remarkable women honored in the American Women Quarters Program is Zitkala-Ša, a writer, musician, and Native American activist. She was a powerful force and ensured the rights and cultural heritage of Native Americans were protected.
Read more to learn about Zitkala-Ša, the American Women Quarters Program, and the Zitkala-Ša Quarter minted in 2024 as part of the program.
The Incredible Life Story of Zitkala-Ša
Zitkala-Ša, whose name translates to “Red Bird” in the Lakota language, was born on February 22, 1876, as Gertrude Simmons on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota. From a young age, she struggled to balance her indigenous heritage and the influences of European-American settlers from her earliest years.
A Traumatic Childhood
Her childhood was traumatic due to forced assimilation, a common experience for Native American children of her time. At just eight years old, she was taken from her family and enrolled in the White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute, a boarding school aimed at assimilating Native children into Euro-American culture. This separation from her family and cultural roots deeply impacted her. Her trauma gave her a new determination to preserve her Native identity and advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples.
After graduating from White’s Manual Labor Institute, Zitkála-Šá studied at Earlham College and The New England Conservatory of Music, where she was a top-performing Indigenous student. She went on to perform a violin solo at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and later collaborated on the opera “Sundance,” which integrated Yankton rituals and melodies. Zitkála-Šá eventually returned to her reservation and began working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
A Life of Activism
In 1902, Zitkála-Šá married Captain Raymond Talephause Bonnin, also of Yankton Sioux descent, and moved to Utah when he was appointed superintendent of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation Agency. Witnessing the systemic prejudice against Indigenous peoples by white employees at the agency, she grew critical of federal policies concerning Native Americans, condemning the corrupt reservation system and advocating for Native autonomy.
Zitkala-Ša’s literary works, including “Old Indian Legends” and “American Indian Stories,” shed light on the experiences of Native Americans in the face of colonization and cultural erasure. Zitkala-Ša also used her platform to advocate for political reform and social change.
She helped establish the Society of American Indians in 1911, one of the first Native American activist organizations in the United States. She advocated for women’s suffrage, eventually becoming the secretary in 1917 and relocating to Washington, D.C. There, she actively participated in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, giving speeches at the National Women’s Party headquarters. In addition, she campaigned for policy reforms aimed at protecting Native land rights, preserving cultural traditions, and advancing the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples.
Despite the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which granted voting rights to women, many Native Americans remained disenfranchised. Zitkála-Šá continued her advocacy, ultimately contributing to the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, granting full citizenship to Native-born individuals.
She and her husband later established the National Council of American Indians in 1926 to unify Native political activism. Zitkala-Ša continued with her activism and campaigning for Native rights until she died in 1938.
The American Women Quarters Program
The United States Mint initiated the American Women Quarters Program to honor the achievements and contributions that various women have made throughout history in the United States. This historic initiative aims to feature trailblazing American women on the reverse side of the quarter coin, alongside George Washington on the obverse.
The selection process for the women honored in the program resulted in 20 women being chosen, with five being honored annually between 2022 and 2025. The pioneering women who have been selected to appear on the 2024 quarters are as follows:
- Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray was a multi-talented activist, Episcopal priest, lawyer, and writer.
- Patsy Takemoto Mink broke barriers in political representation by being the first woman of color in Congress.
- Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was a surgeon during the Civil War who advocated dress reform and women’s rights.
- Celia Cruz was a Cuban-American singer who became one of the most well-known Latin singers of the 20th century. She is also a cultural icon.
- Zitkala-Ša advocated for the rights of indigenous people and was an educator, composer, writer, and political activist.
These diverse women represent women from various fields, including civil rights, suffrage, humanities, government, the arts, and science. In addition, these women come from different backgrounds, such as geographically, racially, and ethnically.
By honoring the 20 women through the American Women Quarters Program, Americans can learn how women fought for what they believed and paved the way for Americans in the modern world. These coins are also a perfect addition to coin collections!
The Coin Design
The design of the Zitkala-Ša Quarter captures Zitkala-Ša’s fighting spirit for indigenous people. She fought to protect her culture, and the coin represents this well. The symbolism represents her heritage and traditions, symbolizing her strength and resilience.
Let’s look at the design of the Zitkala-Ša Quarter, observing both the obverse and reverse sides.
The Obverse Design
The coin’s obverse side (heads) is a portrait of George Washington and was sculpted by Laura Gradin Fraser to celebrate Washington’s 200th birthday. This portrait reminds Americans of the United States’ founding principles while depicting the country’s first president.
The Zitkala-Ša Quarter has inscriptions on the obverse side of the coin. The inscriptions include:
- “IN GOD WE TRUST”
By including George Washington on the quarter, the United States Mint ensures Americans are reminded of the first leader of the United States.
The Reverse Design
On the reverse side (tails) of the Zitkala-Ša Quarter, Zitkala-Ša is wearing traditional Yankton Sioux clothing, which symbolizes her indigenous heritage. She holds a book which reflects her achievements as an author and activist. Behind her, a stylized sun represents her work on The Sun Dance Opera, a production that integrated traditional Yankton Sioux rituals and melodies. A cardinal also represents her name’s translation, “Red Bird,” which adds a beautiful element to the design.
A Yankton Sioux-inspired diamond pattern underneath the sun showcases Zitkala-Ša’s cultural roots and heritage.
The reverse side of the coin also has inscriptions, which include:
- “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”
- “E PLURIBUS UNUM”
- “25 CENTS”
The coin was minted in Denver and Philadelphia, ensuring the Zitkala-Ša Quarter gets distributed across the United States. Renata Gordon is the sculptor for the reverse side of the coin, and Don Everhart, a member of the Artistic Infusion Program, is the designer.
Zitkala-Ša’s Inclusion in the American Women Quarters Program
Zitkala-Ša’s inclusion in the American Women Quarters Program reflects her life of activism and cultural pride. She fought tirelessly for policy reforms that would benefit indigenous communities. Zitkala-Ša was proud of her heritage and shared this pride in her books.
Zitkala-Ša’s inclusion in the American Women Quarters Program for 2024 is a recognition of her enormous impact on American history. She challenged the systemic injustices and dedicated her life to a change in the political landscape.
She used her platform as a writer and musician to spread awareness of the experiences Native Americans faced daily, which included racism and xenophobia. Many of these struggles can be read about in her books, including “American Indian Stories,” which portrayed the struggles of indigenous peoples in the face of colonization and forced assimilation policies.
Zitkala-Ša was also a co-founder of the Society of American Indians, one of the first Native American advocacy organizations in the United States. She used her position within the organization to continue advocating for Native Americans and protecting her heritage.
By honoring Zitkala-Ša on the 2024 quarter, the American Women Quarters Program celebrates and acknowledges her hard work in activism, ensuring her legacy continues for future generations.
Zitkala-Ša’s inclusion in the program is especially significant because it recognizes the contributions of a Native woman who fought for justice and equality. In addition, the American Women Quarters Program coins collection is ideal for adding to your coin collections as they will continue to remind collectors of the change these women fought for in the past.
As we move forward, it’s important to continue to honor the legacies of women like Zitkala-Ša and ensure their stories are told and remembered. Americans play a part in honoring this powerful woman using the currency that portrays Zitkala-Ša’s image.
Let the Zitkala-Ša Quarter remind you why protecting diverse cultural heritage is important. The United States has diverse cultures, which should always be celebrated. So, let’s continue to create an inclusive and equal society in the United States of America!
Quarter Obverse Inscriptions
In God We Trust
Quarter Reverse Inscriptions
United States of America
E Pluribus Unum
Mint & Quarter Mint Marks
Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco (P, D & S)
Available Quarter Mint Strikes
Business & Proof
American Women Quarter Specifications
Composition in Proof & Business Strike: 91.67% Copper & 8.33% Nickel
Composition in Silver Proof: 99.9 Fine Silver
Clad Weight: 5.670 grams
Silver Weight: 5.641 grams
Edge: Reeded & Number of Reeds: 119
American Women Quarter Artist Information
Obverse Design: Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966)
Reverse Design: Sculptor Renata Gordon, Medallic Artist
Designer: Don Everhart, Artistic Infusion Program
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Buy the 2024 Zitkala-Sa Quarter at the Ricktaurius EBay Store.