History Stories

Women on 20s is a grassroots organization, started in 2012 by Barbara Ortiz Howard, with the goal of replacing the face of Andrew Jackson on the $20 with an iconic American woman. The group held an online “primary” election from March 1- April 15, where the public voted for three of 15 candidates, including influential women such as Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton and Betty Friedan. The second round of elections narrowed the 15 women down to four finalists: Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Cherokee Nation chief and Native American activist Wilma Mankiller. The public had until Mother’s Day to cast their votes. More than 600,000 people voted, and abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman emerged as the winner, beating Eleanor Roosevelt by around 7,000 votes. On May 12, 2015, Women on 20s presented President Obama with the online results—along with a petition calling on him to direct the secretary of the treasury to replace Andrew Jackson by 2020. In April 2015, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire added her congressional support by introducing the Women on the Twenty Act to Congress, which called for the formation of a panel of citizens to come up with a recommendation for which woman should appear on the $20.

Why the $20? Andrew Jackson’s controversial past played a part in the recent push by Women on 20s and others. His opposition to a centralized American banking system, which culminated in the infamous “Bank War,” favored silver and gold coins over paper money, making him—for many—an unusual choice for inclusion on U.S. currency. Jackson’s actions with regards to the treatment of Native Americans have also been cited. He was responsible for the Indian Removal Act of 1830 where Native Americans were forcibly removed from their homes to prepare for white European settlers. The subsequent journey became known as the Trail of Tears, during which Native Americans not only lost their homes, but thousands lost their lives.

However, to the surprise—and disappointment—of many advocates, the $10 bill was chosen instead of the $20. Secretary Lew explained this decision simply—to combat counterfeiting. “Currency is primarily redesigned as necessary to address current and potential security threats to currency notes,” the Treasury states on the FAQ section of their new site. The Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence (ACD) Steering Committee recommended the $10 based on current threats. The current $10 entered circulation in March 2006, with updates at the time that included subtle changes to the orange, yellow and red shades of the note. The last bill to get a comprehensive counterfeiting upgrade was the $100 in 2013, which included color-shifting ink, enhanced watermarks, raised printing and a blue 3-D ribbon down the center of the bill. When the bill is moved up and down or side-to-side, a series of “100” numerals and bells in the ribbon moves, and when the bill is titled, it reveals a green Liberty Bell.

While a change to the faces on U.S. paper money is not new, it is definitely not common. The face on the $10 was last changed in 1929, when Alexander Hamilton replaced Andrew Jackson, who was moved to the $20. What will happen to Hamilton, the nation’s first secretary of treasury? It is unclear exactly how, but Secretary Lew stated he would still be a part of the redesigned $10 bill alongside the yet-to-be-named-woman, a development that was also a disappointment to Women on 20s. “We would love to see a woman not have to share her glory, and her opportunity to be recognized and honored,” said executive director Susan Ades Stone.

The last time a woman was featured on U.S. paper money was from 1891 to 1896 when Martha Washington was on a $1 silver certificate. Before that, Pocahontas made a brief appearance on a $20 note from 1865 to 1869. But since then women, including Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, have been relegated to coins.

The United States will be joining 10 other countries that currently feature women on their paper money. Britain recently made headlines when they announced that an upcoming redesign of the 10-pound note would feature Jane Austen, making her the only woman other than Queen Elizabeth II to appear on British currency.

As to which face is next in line to appear on the $10 bill, Treasury Secretary Lew has solicited ideas from the public, including not only which woman should be selected as a representative of inclusive democracy,, but also which symbols of democracy should be included on the new bill. You can share your opinion by using #TheNew10 or visiting their site https://thenew10.treasury.gov.

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