Published: April 28, 2016
After several months of speculation and discussion, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew confirmed that major changes to the U.S. currency would be implemented in the coming years. The $20 note and the backs of the $10 and $5 notes will all be redesigned to feature several new prominent historical figures. It is anticipated that all of the new bills will be in full circulation by 2030.
The changes to the $20 bill are perhaps most historic, as it is the first time a woman will be permanently featured on paper currency. Responses from citizens via an online poll determined the selection of the woman to be featured, and the Department of the Treasury determined that Harriet Tubman, escaped slave, African American abolitionist and Union spy, was the majority winner. Tubman’s portrait will replace president Andrew Jackson’s on the front of the $20 bill, moving his portrait to the back of the bill.
President Jackson, while remembered for his impressive military career and advocacy for the average citizen, was also responsible for the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which resulted in thousands of Native American deaths and was also a prominent slaveholder. Tubman was ultimately chosen to replace the somewhat shady president over three other finalists in the poll which also included, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller (the first female Cherokee chief), all of which would have been commendable choices.
Eleanor Roosevelt did not totally miss out, however, as she is set to be featured on the redesigned back of the $5 bill. Roosevelt,
a fierce civil rights activist, will be depicted alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and singer Marian Anderson. The image of the Lincoln Memorial will remain in the background of the new design, as a testament to Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and Anderson’s 1939 performance, both of which occurred at this location.
Finally, the new design of the $10 bill is set to feature suffragettes Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. This bill is on track to be released in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
This is the bill that has sparked some controversy, however, since the original plan was to also replace Alexander Hamilton with a female figure. The Deptartment of the Treasury has since rescinded its previous declaration and decided to keep Hamilton on the front of the bill. Many critics attribute this decision to the astronomical success of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical
“Hamilton”, which has brought the first secretary of the treasury back into the limelight. Secretary Lew himself may even have been influenced by the musical when he attended a performance in August. He allegedly alluded to the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, that Hamilton would not be going anywhere.
Despite this change of heart, new bill designs are a significant victory for women. Women have a very limited history with U.S. currency. Only a handful of women have been featured on U.S. coins, including Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea and Helen Keller, and only two women were briefly featured on U.S. bills: Martha Washington and Pocahontas. Martha Washington’s portrait graced the $1 silver certificate, which was in circulation for a little more than a decade in the late 1800s. Pocahontas was featured on the back of the $20 bill during the 1860s, which is ironic considering that President Jackson would later be depicted on the same bill.
I am personally excited about these new changes, as the U.S. currency has not undergone significant alterations since the 1920s. I think it is past time for a historical woman to be featured among the men. The feminist in me is proud that these great women, including one of my role models, Eleanor Roosevelt, are being honored. I find this announcement to come at an appropriate time, as we on campus will be hosting Take Back the Night this week. I see this as another small step forward in bridging the gender gap that continues to exist even in 2016.
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