A woman will be featured on the new version of the $10 bill, the Treasury Department announced Thursday, marking the first time women have been represented on the nation’s currency in well over a hundred years.
“America’s currency is a way for our nation to make a statement about who we are and what we stand for. Our paper bills — and the images of great American leaders and symbols they depict—have long been a way for us to honor our past and express our values,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement. “We have only made changes to the faces on our currency a few times since bills were first put into circulation, and I’m proud that the new 10 will be the first bill in more than a century to feature the portrait of a woman.”
The last time a woman was featured on U.S. currency was in the late 1800s, when Martha Washington appeared on the silver-dollar certificate. Other attempts to incorporate images of women into the nation’s currency have failed to take off. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea had brief appearances on the $1 coin before the U.S. Mint largely stopped making them, because of a lack of popularity. Pocahontas was part of a group portrait on a bill circulated in the mid-19th century.
The new $10 bill will be released in 2020, a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote.
The Treasury Department plans to seek public input on which woman should replace Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first treasury secretary, on the $10 bill. Officials will hold town hall meetings and roundtable discussions to discuss “what qualities best represent democracy to help guide the design process,” the department said. They will also review social media submissions using the hashtag #TheNew10 as well as comments posted to a dedicated part of the Treasury website. Lew will announce the decision later this year.
Advocates have been pushing hard to put female faces on U.S. paper currency. After the Women On 20s campaign launched earlier this year with the goal of getting a woman on the $20 bill by 2020, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a bill directing Lew to “convene a panel of citizens” to recommend an appropriate person. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) proposed similar legislation in the House. Earlier this month, Shaheen and seven of her Senate colleagues wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to consider the proposal.
In May, Women On 20s concluded a 10-week poll to find out which woman Americans most wanted on the money. Harriet Tubman finished in first place, followed by Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller. More than 600,000 people participated in the vote.
As others have noted, Andrew Jackson, the United States’ seventh president and current face of the $20 note, would have made a good candidate for replacement, given that his spot on the nation’s currency is questionable in the first place. As president, Jackson authorized and enforced the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced several Native American tribes to give up their land to white farmers and move to what is now Oklahoma. In an atrocity that would become known as the Trail of Tears, thousands of Native Americans died as they were forced to march West. Jackson was also a proponent of slavery and a fierce opponent of the central banking system who discouraged the introduction of paper currency — making him uniquely unfit for his prominent role on U.S. currency.
However, the Treasury ultimately settled on adding a woman to the $10 bill, which was already scheduled for an overhaul by 2020. As for Hamilton, who strongly advocated for a national currency, the Treasury website says that he will remain part of the $10 note: “There are many options for continuing to honor Hamilton. While one option is producing two bills, we are exploring a variety of possibilities.”
It’s worth pointing out that, as progressive as this decision is, women make up slightly more of the total population than men and will now get one gender representative on the nation’s paper currency (and we still have to share that with a man). If currency is a reflection of the country’s values, the fact that women have been missing from American money for so much of the country’s history should serve as an indicator, however subtle, that for all the progress we’ve made, the United States still does not value male and female leaders equally. And currency isn’t the only manifestation of this ugly but inescapable reality; our society routinely fails to teach children about women, acknowledge the relevance of their labor or give them public recognition. Consider these statistics:
- Of the 5,193 public, outdoor statues in the United States, a whopping 394 are women.
- In Congress’ National Statuary Hall there are 100 statues, 99 of whom are men.
- Between 2000-2009, 206 people were honored on postage stamps, less than 25%, women.
- Not one national public holiday is named for a woman or recognizes a significant event tied to women’s equality or revolutionary acts.
In the long history of women’s rights, currency might seem like an inconsequential matter. But extensive research shows that the presence of high profile female leaders and role models can have a profound impact on the leadership skills and educational attainment of young girls and women. Visible female leaders are also important to boys, who are rarely taught — or expected — to cross-gender empathize. Boys in particular need to see women recognized for their public contributions — contributions that have nothing to do with homemaking, sex, reproduction or motherhood.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that putting a woman’s face on the $10 bill will suddenly erase centuries of ingrained gender stereotypes, nor can it put an end to the discriminatory practices that shut women out of many male-dominated professions. But it does mean that the United States is taking a long overdue step toward elevating the lesser told stories of important female leaders — a step that many other countries took long ago.