The Numismatist, May 1926, carried another item on the former Anna Willess Williams:
“The Goddess of Standard Silver Dollar Dead: Miss Anna W. Williams, of Philadelphia, a retired public school teacher whose profile was used in preparing a design of the standard silver dollar in 1878, died in her native city on April 17. Death was due to apoplexy, induced by a fall she sustained last December and she had been confined to her bed since.
“The statement has been frequently made that the head on the standard silver dollar was that of Miss Williams. This statement is not strictly true, Miss Williams possessed a Grecian profile, which was considered almost ideal for a typical head of Liberty, and chiefly on that account she consented to pose for the engraver while preparing the design. This is borne out of the fact that the entire head is much more mature in appearance than would be expected in a girl 18 years old. That was her age at the time she posed.
“In 1876 George Morgan, an expert designer and engraver, was assigned to the duty of preparing the new design for a silver dollar that was to be issued. Thomas Eakins, a Philadelphia artist, was a friend of both Mr. Morgan and Miss Williams’ family, and he had been thrown into contact with the young girl often while she was an art student. [Eakins was involved in several scandals involving girls who were students or who modeled for him, some details of which did not come to light until the late 20th century.] It was at Mr. Eakins’ suggestion that Mr. Morgan and Miss Williams’ friends finally prevailed upon her to pose for the profile that was to go upon the face of the new dollar. The sittings took place at the home of Mr. Eakins in November 1876. It was some time later that the cap with its sheath was decided upon as the ornamentation for the head.
“Miss Williams was principal of the Girls’ School of the House of Refuge in Philadelphia when she was chosen to be the model for the goddess upon the dollar. It was with great difficulty, however, that she was prevailed upon to give sittings to the artist. Only upon condition that her identity should not be revealed would Miss Williams consent to pose.
“For two years the incognito of ‘Miss Liberty,’ the woman’s face on the dollar, remained a secret in the keeping of the government and the artist. A Philadelphia newspaperman revealed the Miss Williams was the ‘Silver Dollar Girl.’ Then came offers of stage engagements, all of which Miss Williams rejected. She consented, for $60 a month, to teach at the House of Refuge until she accepted, in 1891, the position of teacher of kindergarten philosophy in the Girls’ Normal School.
“The story of how Miss Williams came to be the model has not been told often. She was besieged for the story many times, but in later years she smilingly referred to it as ‘an incident of my youth,’ and preferred to talk of her work in the kindergarten schools of the city which she supervised.
“Miss Williams was born in Philadelphia. Her mother was a Southerner, the daughter of Dr. Arthur N. Willess of Maryland. His daughter married Henry Williams of Philadelphia and went with him to that city.
“When she became the model, Miss Williams’ complexion was fair, her eyes blue, her nose Grecian and her hair, which was almost her crowning glory, was of golden color, abundant in quantity and light of texture. It was worn in a becoming soft coil.”
As the 1926 account relates, Miss Williams may have contributed to the dollar, but the actual image may be more of a composite than a specific depiction. On the other hand, the earlier account said it was as good as a photograph.
Probably the only way to answer this in a satisfactory manner would be to locate a photograph of her in 1876 and compare it with the dollar.
Article originally published on StacksBowers.com. Reprinted with permission.