By Katharine Webster
For the past decade, Ellen Anstey ’08 has worked tirelessly to get Lowell into every American pocket and purse.
Her efforts will pay off next week when the U.S. Mint releases the newest quarter in its America the Beautiful series – a coin that celebrates the state of Massachusetts with a design representing Lowell National Historical Park. The quarter features an early 1900s mill girl loading a loom's bobbin battery, with a smokestack and the Boott Mill clock tower in the background and “Lowell” inscribed on top.
“For Lowell to have its own quarter is very special,” says Anstey, manager of administration and engagement at the Tsongas Industrial History Center (TIHC), a partnership between Lowell National Historical Park and UMass Lowell’s College of Education.
“These quarter designs show the importance of place,” says Anstey, who can see the clock tower, with its distinctive shuttle-shaped weathervane, from her office window. “They’re also an educational tool. The goal is to reach the public with Lowell’s history – and then people can come visit us here and see all of those things that are on the quarter.”
Anstey’s role in championing the quarter, from promoting Lowell as the featured federal site to critiquing designs and providing lesson plans, has taken place mostly behind the scenes. But it’s part and parcel of her job and the TIHC’s mission: hosting thousands of schoolchildren every year on field trips to the park; creating learning materials for teachers and the public; educating teachers in hands-on learning; and helping to design exhibits that bring Lowell’s history and technology to life.
Anstey got hooked on the idea of a Lowell quarter when she discovered an online ballot issued by former Gov. Deval Patrick’s office in 2009, asking the public to vote for a federally managed site to be featured on the state’s quarter in the Mint's new America the Beautiful series.
Lowell National Historical Park was among the 100 candidates listed on the ballot, so Anstey sprang into action, calling and emailing everyone she knew, asking them to vote “early and often” for the park.
Thanks in part to her efforts, Lowell National Historical Park beat out better-known federal sites in Massachusetts, including Boston’s Freedom Trail (Boston National Historical Park), Concord’s Minute Man National Historical Park and the Cape Cod National Seashore, to win the honor of being featured on the coin.
A year later, Anstey embarked on a Master of Public History degree at UMass Boston. She made researching the history and process of designing the commemorative state and territorial quarters her capstone project.
So when the Mint contacted Lowell National Historical Park in August 2016 for help with the design, Anstey was asked to help museum specialist Jack Herlihy provide research materials. Together, they submitted historical photos, documents, maps and possible themes.
“The themes we wanted to see included labor – especially working women – water power, technology and Lowell’s history as the first successful, large-scale planned industrial city in the U.S.,” Anstey says. “Those themes are similar to what we focus on for our school field trips.”
They held conference calls with Mint staff and artists, as well as the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, which at the time included former basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an avid coin collector and history buff.
After Herlihy retired, Supervisory Park Ranger David Byers became the official park service liaison. He and Anstey attended meetings in Washington, D.C., and weighed in on the 18 preliminary designs, as well as the final choice.
“The machinery, clothing and hairstyles needed tweaking,” she says.
Cashing In on History
The introduction of the new quarter is a learning opportunity for local schoolchildren.
The Mint used TIHC lesson plans and materials to create a resource booklet and website for teachers, and Anstey and Kristin Gallas, project manager for education programs at the TIHC, met with the Lowell public schools’ curriculum specialists to encourage them to use it with their fourth-grade classes.
Many of those fourth-grade classes will attend the launch ceremony at Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Feb. 6, along with some history classes from Lowell High School and select classes from the city’s other schools, including parochial and charter schools.
“Every child under 18 gets a brand-new Lowell quarter, courtesy of the U.S. Mint,” Anstey says. “We hope it might inspire them to collect the quarters and learn more about all of these incredible natural and historic sites around the country.”
As Anstey celebrates a quarter-century of working for UMass Lowell – two years in the library and 23 with the TIHC – she jokes that she’s worked 25 years for 25 cents. Her role will become a little piece of the quarter’s and Lowell’s history.
“I’m going to hand over all my research and my files to Lowell National Historical Park when this is over,” she says.
The public is welcome to attend the launch celebration and coin exchange at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at Lowell Memorial Auditorium. In case of inclement weather, the event will be held Feb. 7. For more information, visit the Lowell National Historical Park website or the U.S. Mint’s event page.