America’s first prima ballerina, Osage dancer Maria Tallchief, will be featured on a quarter next year as part of the United States Mint’s second year of the American Women Quarters Program.
The official designs were announced by the Mint on Aug. 29. Authorized by Public Law 116-330, the four-year program features coins with reverse (tails) designs emblematic of the accomplishments and contributions of trailblazing American women. Beginning in 2022 and continuing through 2025, the Mint is issuing five quarters in each of these years. The ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse group of individuals honored through this program reflects a wide range of accomplishments and fields, including suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts.
“I am pleased to announce the designs of the 2023 American Women Quarters,” said Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson in the release. “These beautiful designs honor the achievements of these amazing women and add to the Mint’s rich history of rendering the history of our Nation in enduring examples of numismatic art.”
The Secretary of the Treasury selects the honorees following consultation with the Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative, the National Women’s History Museum, and the Congressional Bipartisan Women’s Caucus, according to the release. In 2021, the public was invited to submit recommendations for potential honorees through a web portal established by the National Women’s History Museum.
The five women featured in 2023:
- Bessie Coleman – first African American and first Native American woman pilot
- Edith Kanakaʻole – indigenous Hawaiian composer, custodian of native culture and traditions
- Eleanor Roosevelt – first lady, author, and civil liberties advocate
- Jovita Idar – Mexican American journalist, activist, teacher, and suffragist
- Maria Tallchief – America’s first prima ballerina
The was designed by Ben Sowards, Artistic Infusion Program Designer and sculpted by Joseph Menna, United States Mint Chief Engraver.
The quarter depicts Maria Tallchief in spotlight in balletic pose, and her Osage name, which translates to “Two Standards,” written in Osage orthography. Additional inscriptions are “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” “QUARTER DOLLAR,” and “MARIA TALLCHIEF.”
The Maria Tallchief Quarter is the 10th coin in the American Women Quarters™ Program. She broke barriers as a Native American ballerina exhibiting strength and resilience both on and off the stage.
Tallchief, who died in 2013 at the age of 88, is considered America’s first prima ballerina. She starred in George Balanchine’s “Firebird,” which catapulted her career in 1949. She was the first Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s 1952 original production of “The Nutcracker.” She also starred in “Orpheus” and “Scotch Symphony,” among many others.
The daughter of Alex Tall Chief (Osage) and Ruth (Porter) Tall Chief, her early life was spent in Fairfax, Okla., a town five miles west of the Grayhorse Indian Village, one of the Osage Nation’s three cultural districts. She later moved to Los Angeles with her family where she continued her ballet education. She moved to New York City at the age of 17 and made it to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where she danced from 1942 to 1947. But it was her role with the New York City Ballet from 1948 to 1965 that she is most remembered for. She was the first American to dance at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater and the first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet.
She later served as artistic director for the Lyric Opera Ballet in Chicago and later founded the Chicago City Ballet, of which she was also the artistic director. She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she has received a National Medal of Arts, and in 1996 she was one of five recipients of a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement for her contribution to American culture, where legendary ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov paid tribute to her.
Tallchief received many accolades during her career and after her death. In 2020, Google celebrated Maria Tallchief with a Google Doodle, in 2018 she was inducted posthumously to the National Native American Hall of Fame, and the University of Oklahoma has a scholarship in her name. In Oklahoma, June 29 is Maria Tallchief Day and she is among four Native American ballerinas depicted in “Flight of Spirit,” a mural in the Oklahoma Capitol building.
Look for the quarters in your change or shop online and enroll in the program to sign up to receive all four annual installments as they become available.