The face of Liberty on one of America’s most popular coins is that of a devoted teacher and education advocate.
When Congress passed the Bland-Allison act in 1878, the Treasury began buying silver to mint into new coins, and began to search for a new silver dollar design to be stamped onto the newly-minted silver dollars. The silver dollar had not been minted for domestic use since 1873, and the Seated Liberty design had begun to feel outdated.
George Morgan, newly appointed to the Philadelphia Mint in 1876, began taking intensive art classes; in 1877, he began work on the designs for the new coins. Morgan’s friend, artist Thomas Eakins, encouraged him to use Anna Willess Williams, an art student from Philadelphia, as a model. Morgan considered her profile to be flawless, and was struck by her “crowning glory” of golden hair.
Anna was an art student herself, and agreed to sit for the design of Liberty on the new coins. However, she insisted that her name be kept secret, as she had no desire to become famous as a model of any kind.
Though she had been guaranteed anonymity, Anna Williams’ identity as the “Silver Dollar Girl” was outed by a reporter in 1879. She was flooded with letters and visitors, to her great distress. She was offered a role on stage that could have made her a great deal of money, but rejected it in favor of a teaching position at $60 a month.
When it became known that she was engaged in 1896, interest in Anna Williams was revived. However, the marriage never took place, and Anna preferred to spend her time talking about her role as the supervisor of kindergarten schools in Philadelphia. She retired from her post when she suffered a bad fall in December of 1925, and died of a stroke the following April at the age of 68.