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The Wilma Mankiller Quarter is the third coin in the American Women Quarters™ Program. Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and an activist for Native American and women’s rights. She was born in the Cherokee Nation in 1945. After drought devastated her family’s land in the 1950s, her family was moved to a housing project in California, where the adolescent Mankiller experienced culture shock, exacerbated by poverty and racism.
After Mankiller returned to the Cherokee Nation in 1977, she founded the Community Development Department for the Cherokee Nation. She led the creation of community water systems and rehabilitation of houses during the administration of Principal Chief Ross Swimmer. In 1983, Swimmer named Mankiller his running mate in his bid for re-election. When they won, Mankiller became the first woman elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation. After Swimmer left office to lead the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, she became principal chief.
Mankiller was elected chief in 1987, and four years later, re-elected in a landslide. She tripled her tribe’s enrollment, doubled employment, and built new housing, health centers, and children’s programs in northeast Oklahoma. Under her leadership, infant mortality declined and educational levels rose. Her leadership on social and financial issues made her tribe a national role model. After leaving office in 1995, she remained a strong voice worldwide for social justice, native people, and women.
Mankiller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, the highest honor given to civilians in the United States. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
The obverse (heads) depicts a portrait of George Washington, originally composed and sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser to mark George Washington’s 200th birthday. A recommended design for the 1932 quarter, then-Treasury Secretary Mellon ultimately selected the familiar John Flanagan design.
The reverse (tails) depicts Wilma Mankiller with a resolute gaze to the future. The wind is at her back, and she is wrapped in a traditional shawl. To her left is the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee Nation.
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