Check out your piggy banks and wallets, because your currency may soon be a collectible! The United States Treasury announced on April 20, 2016 that while Alexander Hamilton will remain on the ten dollar bill, historical icon Harriet Tubman will be replacing President Andrew Jackson on the front of the twenty dollar bill—the first woman to be on U.S. paper currency in over 100 years.
According to an Atlantic article titled “An Extremely Brief History of Women on U.S. Paper Currency,” Martha Washington, First of First Ladies, appeared on the $1 silver certificate in the 1880s and 1890s and Native American Pocahontas appeared on the backside of a $20 bill in the 1860s. There have also been a few women on coin currency, including Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and Helen Keller.
There are many reasons to love the twenty dollar bill, but the face that has graced this particular piece of American currency has been the point of controversy, especially in recent years. Andrew Jackson took the place of honor on the twenty dollar bill in 1928, the 100th anniversary of Jackson’s election as the seventh President of the United States, but this POTUS was far from perfect.
Though Jackson was able to manage the country’s finances impressively, he is overwhelmingly remembered for his involvement in Native American persecution, displacement and assimilation. Though many Americans are familiar with the Trail of Tears, few students are fully educated on the harsh history of Jackson’s policies toward the Native American people.
Many public interest groups have come forward in recent years to advocate the removal of Jackson on American currency, pushing for a more inspiring face to take the place of honor—a search that has gone viral in the past two years.
The major group involved in this campaign is WomenOn20s, a non-profit group that has been officially credited with the momentum that pushed Harriet Tubman to the top. Online elections featured on womenon20s.org fielded over 600,000 votes, presenting the results of the polls to President Obama on May 12, 2015. The group hopes to have the new bill in circulation by 2020, when women’s suffrage will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
According to WomenOn20s, the original list of women included 100 names, which was carefully narrowed down to four finalists: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller (Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and first elected female Chief of a Native nation in modern times).
Though these four spectacular women each deserved a spot in the fiscal final four, there are dozens more who would have served the $20 well, from feminist writer Betty Friedan to physicist and astronaut Sally Ride, who was also a member of the LGBT community. The complete list of these amazing women, along with descriptions and their lasting words of wisdom, can be found here.
I look forward to seeing the U.S. Treasury exploring the past 200 years of American history from a female perspective as new designs are developed. It’s interesting to think about how long it may take influential women and men of today to appear on currency, and what they might accomplish in our lifetimes that will change the world as much as Harriet Tubman did.