At the end of the 19th century U.S. currency featured 2 women Pocohantus and Martha Washington. Since then we've seen only 3 more women's portraits and only on special coins. Now the U.S. Treasury is redesigning the $10 bill and, in the overhaul, Alexander Hamilton will move aside for the first image of a woman on currency in 120 years! More than a dozen other countries already feature women on their money. Why has it taken the United States so long and why is now the time?
Paper currency expert Manning Garrett tried to explain the length of time it's taken to feature a woman on currency in his remarks to USAtoday.com: "The people featured on money were limited to political figures," he said, "and if you look back and decide what American woman to put on a silver dollar certificate — women didn't see much of politics, so the pool of candidates was very limited." In fact, currency law requires only that portraits not be of people still living, yet money features U.S. presidents almost exclusively. The 1st, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 16th, 18th, 22nd, 25th, and 28th presidents of the United States are on our cash along with Benjamin Franklin (statesman and inventor) and Salmon P. Chase (politician and jurist). Garrett is right that relatively few women broke into high profile politics but you may be surprised to know that more than 3,000 women ran for office in the late 1800's and early 1900's securing local and state legislative seats. US Congress was harder to attain. Elected in Montana in 1917 Jeanette Rankin was the first to sit in the House of Representatives and, since her election, over 300 women have served. Hattie Caraway served the first US Senatorial term in 1932 but, since then, voters elected just 43 women to the U.S. Senate!
"This county was built not just on the accomplishments of our leaders like Andrew Jackson, Ben Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant but also on the accomplishments of people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins and many other women," Senator Jeanne Shaheen reasoned when she introduced the Women on the 20 act in Congress earlier this year. The act called on the Treasury to convene a citizen panel to select a woman to feature on the 20 dollar bill. The 20 dollar bill was targeted by Shaheen and the grassroots movement Women on 20's in part because Andrew Jackson's politics clash with today's dominant values and Jackson himself was skeptical of paper currency. Jackson's legacy on the 20 is safe for now, however, as the Treasury was scheduled to redesign the $10 bill instead. Alexander Hamilton, a former Secretary of the Treasury and advocate for paper currency, will move over to accommodate the image of a woman selected with public input.
Other countries already feature women on currency and dozens are led by women in roles such as: Chancellor, Premiere, Prime Minister and President. In America we've taken more time to acknowledge the value and leadership ability of women. "Young girls across this country will soon be able to see an inspiring woman on the ten dollar bill who helped shape our country into what it is today and know that they too can grow up and do something great for their country," Shaheen said in response to the Treasury's announcement.
Why is this change happening now? In part, the switch is timed to history. The new bill will appear in 2020...roughly 100 years after women gained the right to vote. It's appearance will mark 50 years since the height of the Women's Movement a revolution in thinking which ushered in Ms. magazine, Title IX, women's studies departments in colleges, important books on gender and feminist politics, and partial state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment among many other important shifts. Attitudes are changing now because women are in high profile political offices and boardrooms. This year women hold 100 seats in Congress....the largest number in U.S. history! It's happening now because women control wealth. That's right. Recent polls show that 80% of women are solely responsible for their family financial decisions. In addition, 45% of today's millionaires are female!
Congratulations, America! There's no better way to formally acknowledge the value of your women then to feature her image on the symbol of your economic might.
Update June 2015 Read the opinions of people against the Treasury's decision at yahoo news.
Update April 2016 It's happening! Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Marian Anderson and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt will all be featured on new U.S. currency.