The Story of Lady Liberty on Morgan’s Dollar

The Morgan Dollar is one of only a few coins to have the distinction of being named after its designer George T. Morgan. Minted between the years of 1878 and 1904 and then again in 1921, the Morgan Dollar is 38.1 mm in diameter and weighs 26.73 grams. The metallic composition of the Morgan Dollar is .900 Silver, .100 Copper, and has an ASW of .77344 oz. pure silver. This PCGS MS-65 dollar with satin-like luster has a mintage of 9,976,000 and an approximate survival rate in MS-65 or better of 15,809 (PCGS CoinFacts).

In anticipation of the return of the silver dollar as a circulating coin, Mint Director Henry Linderman hired George T. Morgan in 1876 as an assistant engraver for the express purpose of designing a new silver dollar. Shortly thereafter, Morgan finished the reverse design, but the obverse design of the new dollar would be quite another issue. Then later in 1876 through a common friend, Thomas Eakins, Morgan found in the facial profile of Miss Anna W. Williams the perfect representation of the Goddess of Liberty for his dollar coin.

Miss Anna Williams, an art student in Philadelphia, was a modest 18-year-old girl. She did not crave notoriety or fame, but rather desired to pursue her passion as a schoolteacher in relative obscurity. When first asked to model for Morgan, she soundly refused. Through the encouragement of her friend Thomas Eakins, she finally agreed to model for Morgan under the stipulation that her identity remained anonymous. The official cover story would be that Morgan got the inspiration for his dollar from a Greek figure at the Philadelphia Academy of Art.

With final approval for the silver dollar design and passage of the Bland-Allison Act occurring on the same day, minting of the Morgan Dollar began in 1878. Unfortunately, the secret identity of Lady Liberty on the Morgan Dollar would be short-lived and in the summer of 1879, a Philadelphia newspaper revealed Anna Williams identity and dubbed her The Silver Dollar Girl.

This in turn brought a deluge of unwanted attention to Miss Anna W. Williams, then a schoolteacher at The House of Refuge. Fortunately, for Anna, this sudden surge of notoriety eventually subsided. However, in years to follow, Anna would reappear in the limelight and her decision to model for Morgan would vex her for the rest of her life.

In 1891, Anna Williams accepted a $60/month offer as a teacher of kindergarten philosophy at the Girls Normal School. In spite of the unwanted publicity as The Silver Dollar Girl, Anna became an accomplished teacher in her own rite. Annas literary talents allowed her to publish numerous articles in current periodicals and win an award for the best original essay on psychology. Consequently, this talent called her to several cities where she gave lectures on the topic of kindergarten teaching. Later Anna became the supervisor of kindergartens in Philadelphia, a position she held for more than 25 years until her retirement. Anna rarely granted interviews, but when she did, she used her notoriety as Morgans Goddess of Liberty as an opportunity to talk about the issues with which she was passionate.

Anna returned to the limelight in 1892 when she found herself and a print of her bust the subject of an article in The Ladies Home Journal. In 1896, Anna announced her engagement to be married. That announcement in turn was reprinted in the May 1896 issue of the ANA journal, The Numismatist. For whatever reason, the engagement broke off and Anna never married. While there are several theories as to why this occurred, I believe the excessive publicity surrounding the engagement eventually doomed it.

For me, this incident represents a sad chapter in Annas life and the constant struggle for any sense of normalcy in her life. This in turn is why I choose the 1896 Morgan Dollar to represent Miss Anna W. Williams story. I wonder if every time Anna handled one of these coins, it served as a constant reminder to her. Fortunately, for her, Morgan Dollars in Philadelphia circulated about as much as dollar coins do today.

Always the schoolteacher, Anna even in retirement advocated for compulsory kindergarten education for all students in Philadelphia. Then on April 17, 1926, Anna Willis Williams died in her hometown of Philadelphia at the age of 68. Annas obituary also appeared in the May 1926 issue of The Numismatist.

In summary, despite all the evidence to the contrary, there is still some speculation as to the identity of Lady Liberty on the Morgan Dollar. A letter sent from Morgans daughter to her daughter is the primary reason for doubt. In that letter Morgans daughter states, Father always said no matter how many models posed for him that he never bid any, and that he made up the obverse himself. However, from Annas perspective, she is quoted describing her role as Lady Liberty as, an incident of my youth. I think regardless of what happened, Morgan was going to keep up his end of the anonymity bargain, and the model for the Morgan Dollar is indeed that of Anna W. Williams. I am also posting a photo collage of a print I purchased on ebid alongside the obverse of the 1896 Morgan Dollar from my collection. For me this is the primary piece of evidence to the identity controversy concerning the Morgan dollar, as the resemblance is unmistakable.

3 thoughts on “The Story of Lady Liberty on Morgan’s Dollar

Comments are closed.