Finally… A Woman Chosen for the US $20 Bill, Plus New Faces For the $10 and $5

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The decision about how to update U.S. money followed intense political debate over race and gender -- and may also have been influenced by a new musical.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced Wednesday that a major redesign of the nation’s paper money will place women in prominent positions.

After a 10-month study, Lew announced Harriet Tubman would be on the face of the $20 bill, pushing Andrew Jackson to the back. (Before you get upset that she wasn’t a president, neither was Alexander Hamilton who is on the $10 bill, nor was Benjamin Franklin who graces the $100. And before you get upset that she wasn’t one of the founding fathers, neither was Jackson.)

Initially, it had been suggested that a woman would be placed on the $10 bill, displacing Alexander Hamilton. However, due perhaps in part to the popularity of “Hamilton” the Pulitzer-prize winning musical about the first Treasury Secretary, he will stay put. The back of the bill will change, however. Where there is currently an image of the Treasury Building, there will instead be an image of a 1913 march by women’s suffragists which ended at the building.

As the Treasury secretary was mulling the decision over the $10, there was a grassroots movement led by a group called Women on 20s, which advocated for the $20 bill to be dedicated exclusively to women. In part, the movement was about honoring the role of women in American history and in part it was about replacing the image of Andrew Jackson, a president who is now reviled by some for brutal policies towards Native Americans and for owning slaves.

Three candidates who took the top spots in the Women on 20s vote were civil rights activist Rosa Parks, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman, who was instrumental in helping African American escape slavery.

Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller was also added to the final ballot, according to Women on 20s, “because of strong public sentiment that people should have the choice of a Native American to replace Andrew Jackson.”

For more on the evolution of this debate over updating the currency, see our previous coverage:

The $5 bill will also get a makeover on the rear. Abraham Lincoln will remain on the front — but the opposite side, where the current bill shows the Lincoln Memorial, there will be images of Marion Anderson, a black opera star who performed there after being forbidden from taking the stage at Constitution Hall. She will share the rear with Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped arrange that show, and Martin Luther King, Jr. who delivered his ‘I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

The last woman to appear on paper money was Martha Washington in 1891.

Final designs are likely to be unveiled in 2020 (unless the next president scraps the plan) with the bills going into circulation later in the decade.

What are your impressions of the choices that Treasury announced for the updated currency. Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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