The 2023 nominees have been announced; here is what you need to know about them.
By Melissa Farthing, Copy Editor
A few months ago, I wrote an article about a new initiative from the United States Mint: The American Women Quarters Program. This program, which will last from 2022 to 2025, celebrates the achievements of prolific American women by designing quarters with their portraits on them.
Last year, the first five women featured in the program were unveiled: Maya Angelou, Dr. Sally Ride, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong. In April 2022, an additional five women that will be featured on coins in 2023 were announced by the U.S. Mint. These women include Bessie Coleman, Edith Kanaka’ole, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jovita Idár and Maria Tallchief.
Here are some facts about these inspiring women and their stories:
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)
Also known as Brave Bessie and Queen Bess, Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American female pilot. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Coleman was inspired to become a pilot after hearing stories from her brother who served in France during World War I. She learned how to speak French so that she could apply to flight schools in France because no flight schools in the U.S. would read her application. Finally, the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation accepted Coleman into its program, and Coleman received her pilot’s license in 1921. Coleman was well-known for performing elaborate tricks during her flights. Her dream was to open a flight school of her own one day. In 1923, she suffered major injuries from a plane crash but fully recovered. Sadly, Coleman underwent another plane crash in 1926; both she and the mechanic piloting the plane did not survive. She died at age 34.
Edith Kanaka’ole (1913-1979)
Edith Kanaka’ole was a Hawaiian dancer, teacher, chanter and kumu hula, a master teacher in hula. Kanaka’ole first learned hula from her mother and later studied hula with famous dancer Akoni Mika. In 1946, Kanaka’ole began composing her own oli, which are Hawaiian chants. These chants were often accompanied by choreographed hula. She founded a hālau, or school, after her mother suffered a stroke in 1993. Two of her daughters, Nalani and Pualani, eventually took over the hālau. Aside from hula, Kanaka’ole also had a major impact on public schools, forming the first Hawaiian language program for students at the Keaukaha School in Hilo. Eleven years after her death, the Edith Kanaka’ole Foundation (EKF) was founded “to maintain and perpetuate the teachings, beliefs, practices, philosophies and traditions of the late Luka and Edith Kanaka’ole,” according to the organization’s website. Today, the EKF provides services such as Hawaiian cultural education and scholarships for Native Hawaiian students.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt was an American political figure, activist and diplomat. She is best known as the 32nd First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945; according to PBS, she is the longest-serving First Lady in U.S. history. According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Roosevelt lost both of her parents as a child, and she was sent to live with her grandmother, Valentine G. Hall. At the age of 15, she was sent to a private school for girls in England and returned to New York, her home state, at the age of 18. In 1905, she married her fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who later became U.S. President. While serving as First Lady, Eleanor was considered the “eyes, ears and legs” of the President as she traveled far and wide across the country. She was an activist who fought for the rights and needs of minority groups, the poor and the disadvantaged. In 1935, Eleanor began her own syndicated column, “My Day,” which ran until 1962. Her husband passed away in 1945; even after his death, she continued a life of goodwill. She served as chair of the Human Rights Commission and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the General Assembly adopted in 1948. She volunteered for the American Association of the U.N. and later became the chair of the Association’s Board of Directors. Eleanor was a prolific speaker and writer and maintained her public image until her death in 1962.
Jovita Idár (1885-1946)
Jovita Idár was a Mexican-American journalist, activist and suffragist. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Idár’s first career choice was to become a teacher; however, she quickly resigned after being exposed to segregation and violence against Mexican-American students. Idár then began working at her father’s newspaper, La Crónica; some of her siblings were also working for the newspaper. In 1911, the Idár family created the First Mexican Congress to unify Mexicans and fight injustice. Later that year, Idár founded and became the president of La Liga Feminil Mexicaista or the League of Mexican Women. This organization advocated for women’s suffrage by teaching local Mexican-American students. Idár eventually left La Crónica and began working for a newspaper titled El Progreso. After writing an article opposing President Woodrow’s decision to ship U.S. troops to the border, the U.S. Army tried to shut down El Progreso. Although they were successful, Idár was able to hold them off by standing in front of the office door. Throughout her life, Idár continued writing many articles that championed the fair treatment of Mexican-Americans. She also served during the Mexican Revolution as a nurse.
Maria Tallchief (1925-2013)
Maria Tallchief was the first Native American (Osage Nation) female to become a prima ballerina. Tallchief began dancing at the age of three, and at the age of 17, she moved to New York to pursue a career in dancing. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Tallchief was cast as an understudy in the Ballet Russe, the premier Russian ballet company in the U.S. at the time. When one of the lead ballerinas had to drop out of the company, Tallchief was asked to take her place. Her performance wowed audiences. In 1947, Tallchief danced with the Paris Opera Ballet, becoming the first American to do so. A year earlier, Tallchief wed choreographer George Balanchine. Balanchine restaged the ballet Firebird and cast Tallchief in the leading role. According to biography.com, other productions Tallchief starred in included The Nutcracker as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Miss Julie, Scotch Symphony and Orpheus. During her time as a ballerina, many suggested that Tallchief change her last name to avoid discrimination against her Native American heritage; Tallchief refused. Tallchief passed away in Chicago in 2013 at the age of 88.