Everything you need to know about Anna May Wong, the first Asian American to appear on US currency

The pioneering Asian-American actor Anna May Wong will appear on new quarters across the United States

Anna May Wong
(Image credit: General Photographic Agency / Stringer)

The fifth figure part of the American Women Quarters Program, which seeks to spotlight pioneering women by featuring them on US currency, has been made public: silent era movie star Anna May Wong will be the very first Asian American to appear on American money.

The other four women to be honored earlier this year are Maya Angelou (officially the first Black woman to appear on US quarters!), the first ever American woman to head to space Sally Ride, Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren. 

Fun fact: Wilma, Nina and Anna were actually selections made using input from the public - a fact that, to be honest, bestows even more honor upon each pick.

Film buffs probably know that Anna was born in Los Angeles and kicked off her acting career at the young age of 14. She actually starred in a lead role a mere three years later, in the 1922 silent film The Toll of the Sea, about an American seaman that marries a Chinese girl but then deserts her.

Her filmography also includes the 1929 British silent drama Piccadilly, 1931's Daughter of the Dragon, Shanghai Express from 1932 and Bombs Over Burma, the 1942 American war film directed by Joseph H. Lewis and based on a story by Milton Raison.

Anna May Wong coin

(Image credit: Courtesy of U.S. Mint)

In 1951, Anna made history once more with The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first-ever American TV show starring an Asian American as a lead. 

Unfortunately, the actor passed at the young age of 56 from a heart attack on February 3, 1961. She received a Hollywood Walk of Fame the year before that. Her star is actually next to the one honoring Lucy Liu, the second Asian American woman to ever receive one back in 2019.

The new quarters won't be Anna's only post-humous distinctions. In fact, a biopic of her life starring Gemma Chan of Crazy Rich Asians fame is currently in the works.

According to the New York Times (opens in new tab), the U.S. Mint is working to produce over 300 million Anna-starring quarters - a fact that feels even more important when measured against the current state of Asian Americans in the United States, who have been calling for added protections and a stop to violent acts carried out against them for quite some time now.

The American Women Quarters Program, part of a bill sponsored by representative Barbara Lee of California, calls for the creation of five new coins each year from 2022 through 2025. Any guesses on who the next pick will be?

Anna Rahmanan is a New York-based writer and editor who covers culture, entertainment, food, fashion and travel news. Anna’s words have appeared on Time Out New York, the Huffington Post, Fortune, Forbes, Us Weekly, Bon Appetit and Brooklyn Magazine, among other outlets.