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New US quarter honors first female Cherokee Nation leader

Wilma Mankiller is the new face of select US quarters, the first women elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The Wilma Mankiller, left and Nina Otero-Warren quarters, are displayed above Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen as speaks to employees after touring The Denver Mint in Denver, Friday March 11, 2022. The Denver Mint is one of two locations that locations manufacturing coins for the new American Women Quarters Program which includes the Maya Angelou quarter dollar coin. Jason Connolly/ AP

Story at a glance

  • The American Women Quarters Program aims to celebrate and honor women who have made history in the US. 

  • This week, Wilma Mankiller was honored, and she will be featured on a limited quantity of US quarters.

  • Mankiller was the first women to serve as principal chief of a major American Indian tribe. 

A new quarter unveiled this week honors Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and an activist for Native American and women’s rights. 

Mankiller is the third woman to be featured on a US quarter, as part of the American Women Quarters Program. The initiative aims to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of the US. 

According to U.S. Mint, Mankiller played a pivotal role in advocating for and supporting the rights of American Indians. She was born in 1945 in Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation but had to move after a devastating drought in the 1950s. Mankiller moved to a housing project in California where she grew up experiencing culture shock, exacerbated by poverty and racism. 

She would return to the Cherokee Nation in 1977, where she helped rehab her community which included creating community water systems and renovating houses. Mankiller later went on to become elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation and eventually principal chief. 

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She served as principal chief for 10 years and became the first women to be elected chief of a major American Indian tribe. 

Under her leadership the Cherokee Nation’s enrollment tripled, employment doubled and new housing, health centers and children’s programs were established. Infant mortality also declined and educational levels rose.  

Even after leaving office in 1995, Mankiller, “remained a strong voice worldwide for social justice, native people and women,” described U.S. Mint. 

Under former President Bill Clinton, Mankiller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.  

Mankiller died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer.  

New quarters featuring Mankiller will only be produced in limited quantities but are also available for purchase online. 

More American female leaders will be featured on US quarters as the American Women Quarters program will continue through 2025. Each year U.S. Mint will issue up to five new quarter designs.  

Before Mankiller, Sally Ride was featured on US quarters, a physicist, astronaut, educator and first American woman to go to space.