Over the last few weeks, I received emails from people finding quarters celebrating Maya Angelou on the reverse in their change. When I reply by explaining the Women on Quarters program, the writers are surprised that this program exists.
A woman wrote and asked if I would confirm that Sally Ride would appear for a quarter. When I confirmed that the quarter was next in the series, she wanted to know where to find the quarters so she could give them to her daughter, who wants to be a rocket scientist.
I have never seen this type of reaction to a coin program. Students are talking about the coins as they relate to history. Parents are talking about using the coins to influence their daughters.
The unsung design element that numismatists appreciate is the adaptation of Laura Gardin Frasier’s portrait of George Washington. Frasier, the wife of James Earle Frasier, created an acclaimed design that the Committee on Fine Arts picked twice in a competition of artists. Unfortunately, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, a known misogynist, rejected the design and selected the art of John Flannigan instead. Laura Gardin Frasier’s design has taken its rightful place on the coin’s obverse.
A coin that makes everyone excited. That’s a winning combination!
And now the news…
I’ve read that the claims about Andrew Mellon rejecting Laura Fraser’s design for the Quarter are hogwash invented by Walter Breen. I’ve read that the real reason Laura Fraser wasn’t selected for the Quarter was because Laura Fraser was already selected for the medal commission.
We know that the Commission on Fine Arts selected Laura Gardin Frazier’s design during the initial competition. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon asked the CFA to review their recommendation. In their second report, the CFA wrote the recommendation as I quoted in my post.
There is documentation that Congress had bipartisan support to impeach Mellon for making the Great Depression worse. After Mellon decided on the design, he was appointed as ambassador of Great Britain, and Ogden Mills, his successor, did not overturn the selection.
A written record does not exist for Mellon’s decision, and the first written record of misogyny comes from Walter Breen. Breen made a logical assumption that, given Mellon’s history of chauvinism, including his stance against suffrage and women in higher education, he rejected the design by a woman.
For her part, Fraser never disputed Breen’s claim.
Other numismatic researchers like Roger Burdette dispute Walter Breen’s reliability. Breen has been known to invent facts and put them into his writing. There may be no written record of Mellon’s misogyny with Fraser but there is a written record about a lot of unsavory things concerning Walter Breen.
A lot of people dispute Breen’s assertions in many areas, and Breen has a “colorful” history. A lot of people in numismatics and other fields have colorful histories, but that does not make them wrong. Andrew Mellon also had a colorful history. At the time he was appointed as Ambassador to the Court of St. James (UK), he was on the verge of a bipartisan impeachment. Even the Republicans were ready to vote him out of office. There is evidence of Mellon’s misogyny or chauvinism, as it was called at the time. He founded the Mellon Institute (now part of Carnegie-Mellon University, my graduate school alma mater) to teach women about education and the arts. He said he didn’t feel women were capable of being engineers and run businesses.
I am not saying Breen was right and I am not discounting the disputes by folks like Burdette. But there is contemporary evidence of Mellon’s chauvinism. Also, when Breen made the assertion, Frasier was still alive and did not dispute the claim. That has to count for something.