The Maria Tallchief Quarter

By Katherine Harvey



United States Mint Deputy Director Kristie McNally and Elise Paschen applaud the crowd


After months of planning with the US Mint, the National Women’s History Museum and Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Maria Tallchief Quarter was officially introduced on Saturday, November 11, 2023 at the Lyric Opera House where America’s first prima ballerina, Maria Tallchief, was Director of Ballet for Lyric Opera of Chicago and a member of the Lyric Opera Women’s Board.


Elise Paschen talks with U.S. Mint staff at the VIP reception


A VIP cocktail party took place on the mezzanine of the majestic Art Deco opera house before the official introduction of the coin with Maria’s daughter Elise Paschen, internationally acclaimed poet, anthologist and professor, representatives of the US Mint, the National Women’s History Museum and other honored guests. Representatives from the US Mint included Deputy Director Kristie McNally and from the National Women’s History Museum Frederique Irwin, President and CEO. 


A shadow box is presented to Elise Paschen by United States Mint Deputy Director Kristie McNally


The Maria Tallchief Quarter is part of a four year program begun in 2022 celebrating American women of accomplishment. Past quarters have honored Maya Angelou and Eleanor Roosevelt and future quarters will include Celia Cruz and Patsy Takemoto Mink. The image of the honoree appears on the reverse of the coin while the obverse features the 1932 portrait of George Washington by sculptor Laura Garden Fraser commemorating Washington’s 200th birthday. 


United States Mint Deputy Director Kristie McNally and Elise Paschen participate in a traditional coin pour


After the VIP cocktail party, honored guests joined others in the  Grand Foyer of the opera house for a program where Chicago’s own  Bill Kurtis served as Master of Ceremonies. A short film tribute to Maria produced by Donna LaPietra was featured along with Clara Thiele and Lucas Garcia Leon from the Joffrey Ballet Studio Company performing the Pas de Deux from Swan Lake, choreography by Marius Petipa, music by Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Sophia Maekawa,  mezzo-soprano, accompanied by Michael Banwarth piano, both from the Patrick G and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera, sang “Che faro sense Euridice?” from the opera Orfeo ed Euridice, composed by Christoph Wallibald Gluck.


Speakers included Anthony Freud, General Director, President and CEO of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Katherine Harvey friend of Maria’s and member of the Lyric Opera Women’s Board, Susan Whiting, Board Chair, National Women’s History Museum and Elise Paschen, daughter of Maria Tallchief.


Elise Paschen with her mother, Maria Tallchief          Photo: Jack Mitchell


 Bill Kurtis served as the emcee for the event


Katherine Harvey speaks to the attendees


A panel discussion about the career of America’s first prima ballerina featured panelists Kristy McNally, Deputy Director, US Mint, Jennifer Herrera, Vice President of External Affairs, National Women’s History Museum, Larry Kaplan, Co-Author, Maria Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina with Moderator Mary Smith, President, American Bar Association, and Member, NWHM Board of Directors. 


United States Mint Deputy Director Kristie McNally, Larry Kaplan, National Women’s History Museum Vice President of External Affairs Jennifer Herrera, Mary Smith


Larry Kaplan, Elise Paschen, Jean Hanff Korelitz and Suzin Farber


To conclude the program, the traditional coin pour took place with 2,000 Maria Tallchief coins poured into a wood box surrounded by toe shoes. Everyone went home with a Maria Tallchief Quarter to remember this  extraordinary event honoring an extraordinary woman.


Coin Pour chest


Maria’s image, along with four other Native American ballet dancers, is also featured on the reverse of the 2023 Sacagawea Native American Dollar coin with the image of Sacagawea always on the obverse. The coin is titled “Maria Tallchief and American Indians in Ballet” with the dancers often called “The Five Moons”. 


Group photo of key players who executed the event


Elise Paschen and Donna LaPietra




U.S. Mint photos by Jill Westeyn