Hope Blecher
Member, Hadassah Lower New York State Chapter

What do Henrietta Szold and Maya Angelou have in common?

Poet & Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou and Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America; photo courtesy of Hadassah
Poet & Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou and Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America; photo courtesy of Hadassah

Recently, I read about the new US quarters. One side is the image of George Washington, the other side is the image of Maya Angelou. I learned that Maya Angelou is the first Black woman on the US coin, the quarter. There’s more to come as four more images will don the head of this currency. Yet, this got me to wonder about other women, other currency and why this change has been greeted with cheers and jeers.

It was 1979, with the minting of the Susan B. Anthony dollar, that a circulating US coin had the image of a woman.  Over the past 43 years, the likenesses of a few iconic woman have been minted on commemorative, limited edition, limited quantity quarter dollars. At the same time, the images of historic women on circulating, non-commemorative, coins have been discussed, proposed, discussed, and proposed again. This time, there is action.

Over the next few years, under the American Women Quarters Program, there will be other coins released into circulation. You may recall the call to action around placing an image of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. That move had momentum and so did the Broadway musical, Hamilton. So, the image of Harriet did not replace that of Alexander Hamilton on our nation’s paper currency.

In the United States, there has been an absence of woman of any race, ethnicity and religion on paper currency. We must go back to the 1800s for the one, and to date, only time a woman has appeared on a paper certificate. That was and remains Martha Washington.

What about images of notable women on other US currency? What about images of these notable women on non-US currency? I use the term notable women to differentiate from images of fictional female figures such as Lady Liberty. So, now to women who have been on paper and coinage around the world. Welcome to Queen Elizabeth, Golda Meir and Hadassah’s very own, Henrietta Szold.

Henrietta, a citizen of the United States of America, born in Baltimore, Maryland, to immigrant parents, committed her adult life to education, to helping others, to the Youth Aliyah movement, to Palestine and to the founding, in 1912 of an organization that would become known as Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

It’s 2022, the 110th anniversary of the events of 1912. In that year, thirty-eight women created a women’s Zionist organization devoted to promoting Jewish institutions in Palestine and fostering Jewish ideals. Szold was elected president.

It was two years later, in 1914 that the organization formally became known as Hadassah. That centenary anniversary is only two years from now. With so much happening around the world and in our own back yards, let’s use these years to spread the word. Let’s be proud to state that, “Szold became the first American and the first woman to be portrayed on Israeli currency.” Israel, a country about 436 times smaller than the size of the United States of America, recognized the efforts of a woman citizen of the USA and portrayed her on its currency. That is such a profound image and context for rich learning and discussion to happen.

As people look around the world for leaders, we at Hadassah, have many women to acknowledge. As Maya Angelou’s image shows her standing with rays of sunshine and a bird in flight, I am reminded of the dove of peace and the golden dome of Jerusalem. What conversations might Henrietta Szold and Maya Angelou have had if they had met? While they might not have spoken about money, there will be more women on US quarter dollar coins in the years to come.

The image of George Washington, by law, remains on the head of the quarter dollar. The women get the tail side. I’ll take it! There are two sides to every story, so let’s get the story of both these women into circulation during March Women’s History Month.

Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold on Israeli currency
About the Author
Dr. Hope Blecher has been working in the field of education for 37 years. Currently, she serves as an English as a Second Language teacher for an adult education program in NJ. Recently, she became the founder of Previously, Hope served in capacities from being the first Middle School Curriculum Coordinator and Humanities teacher for a yeshiva in Teaneck, NJ, to serving in public schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Supervisor of English Literacy, Social Studies and Media Services. Dr. Hope Blecher holds multiple standard NJDOE issued certifications that she has used by serving as an adjunct professor, a teacher of high school students with special needs, English Language Learners K-adult, and those in the elementary age level classrooms. Along with friends and colleagues, Hope co-authored educational books and articles. She earned a BA in Sociology, an MA in Early Childhood Education, and an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership. She has been a member of Hadassah for over a decade, first in the Southern NJ chapter and currently in the Lower New York State chapter.
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