The official Iowa state quarter, minted in 2004, was designed to be an emblem of local pride. There were only a few motifs seriously considered for the coin’s tails side: farm land and agriculture, “American Gothic” painter Grant Wood and public education.
Other states chose state animals or plants, national landmarks, their own outline, historic events and notable citizens. In the end, Iowa chose a compromise, putting Wood’s painting of a country schoolhouse on nearly 1.77 million quarters. Emblazoned just above the horizon are the words “Foundation in education.”
Wood was born near Anamosa, Iowa, in 1891. In his generation, the education offered by the Hawkeye State was unrivaled. By the time Iowa entered the union in 1846, each of its counties already had multiple grammar schools. The state’s first high school came just a few years later. Hundreds more were on the way, thanks to Iowa’s Free School Act of 1858, which funded construction of a high school in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Before 1900, other states had few high schools. By 1910, Iowa had more than 400 high schools, a number that ballooned through the 20th century.
The 2004 Iowa quarters are still circulating. The one-room schoolhouse looks quaint and rustic — it’s also cramped, old-fashioned and difficult to adapt for students’ changing needs.
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