On Wednesday, April 20th, 2016, U.S Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew announced that the $5, $10, and $20 dollar bills would be remodeled. All three of these new bills will feature at least one woman on each of them. The most notable change is the removal of former President Andrew Jackson from the front of the 20 dollar bill, and placement of civil rights leader Harriet Tubman there instead. It has been over a century since there has been a female on any United States paper currency. But what does this mean? The addition of women to the currently solely-male banknotes is extremely important and significant for our country, our society, and our fight for gender and racial equality.
The last time American paper money featured a woman was near the end of the 19th century, when former First Lady Martha Washington was highlighted on the $1 bill for a few short years. Before that, the only other instance was when the Native American Pocahontas was on the back of $20 bills in the 1860’s. Women have been featured on several different forms of American coin currency, but only two short-lived forms of American paper currency. Considering that women make up half of the population of the nation, and have been a vital part of many incredible accomplishments that have aided the advancement of this country, this seems ridiculous.
The new five dollar bill will still feature Abraham Lincoln on the front, but the back is going to be redesigned to feature the Lincoln Memorial, and include portraits of people involved in historic events there. For example, Marian Anderson (an opera singer) and Eleanor Roosevelt, who had a concert there in 1939 to advance the civil rights movement, along with Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, will be featured on the bill.
The new ten dollar bill will be the first one released and will come out in time for the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote. In honor of this, the backside of the bill will feature leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. While Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front, suffragists Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul will be montaged on the back.
It is the new twenty dollar bill, however, that is the most revolutionary. Harriet Tubman will be featured front-and-center on the new $20 bills. Not only will this be the first time in over 100 years that a woman will be on paper money, but also the first time ever that a black woman will be on any American currency. Tubman was born into slavery in 1822, and later was able to escape. After escaping, she returned to the south and was a conductor of the Underground Railroad, and helped many slaves achieve freedom. She later helped fight for women’s suffrage. She was a civil rights leader, abolitionist, humanitarian, freedom fighter, union spy, union army nurse, suffragist, and American hero.
It is so important that the United States Government is finally recognizing the importance of representation of women. The currency of a country represents the nation as a whole, and is a universal symbol of the nation. The people are better represented when there is more diversity, because clearly the entirety of the USA is not white men.
The new designs of the $5, $10, and $20 dollar bills are so important in the movement for equal and more diverse representation. The representation of women on these bills is so important for the feminist movement, and the representation of people of color is so important for the civil rights and racial equality movements. Tubman has made amazing advances and helped so many Americans during and after her lifetime. She is more than deserving of being the next face of the $20 bill, especially more so than Andrew Jackson, who was a slave-trader, opponent of (ironically) paper currency, and conductor of the Trail of Tears, which forced the relocation of thousands of Native Americans from their native tribal lands.
This news, and the media and legislative pressure that caused it, have sparked conversations about what symbols and historical figured define our nation. Our nation is gender-inclusive, multicultural, from diverse backgrounds, and faced with many different obstacles in life; it is important that our national currency represents that. In order to accurately portray that, we have to depict these different qualities in every way we know how. Representing women and African-Americans on American dollar bills is an important step in the right direction in the fight for social justice and civil rights.