Sorry, Mrs. Roosevelt. You Aren’t Your Husband

August 25th, 2015 by

Alexander Hamilton has appeared on $10 notes and gold certificates since at least 1928. His portrait has appeared on various denominations of paper money since 1861.

Alexander Hamilton has appeared on $10 notes and gold certificates since at least 1928. His portrait has appeared on various denominations of paper money since 1861.

There has been a recent move to add a prominent woman to U.S. currency. The famous Women On $20s (W20s) campaign has petitioned the U.S. Treasury to add a historically significant woman onto the $20 bill to celebrate the upcoming 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. However, as of late, the U.S. Treasury Department has mentioned redesigning the $10 note instead of the $20 note, as was originally suggested by the Women on 20s campaign.

“Hashtag” New 10 (#New10)

Jacob Lew is the United States Secretary of the Treasury.

Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew

The Treasury has made this change stating that the ACD (Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence [Steering Committee]) has recommended the $10 note for redesign rather than the $20 note. Not only has there been a change in denomination on which a woman will be featured, but whichever woman is chosen to be on the ten will also have to play second to Alexander Hamilton, as he will remain on the note. The Treasury offers little to explain why the $20 note can’t also be redesigned. While it is true that only the $10 note has been recommended for redesign, it certainly seems as though, by including a woman on the $10 note and not on the $20 note, they are deeming women unworthy of being featured on a $20 note.

Regardless of this, the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury has announced that a woman will be featured on the $10 note. The woman to be featured has not yet been decided, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Lew has taken public suggestions into consideration and asks for more suggestions. Lew is looking for a woman to fit into the new theme of U.S. currency, American democracy. In addition, it must be a woman who has already passed away, per U.S. law. Among the preferred qualities of the person to be featured on the $10 note are (1) being well-known and (2) having protected or advanced the rights and freedoms on which the United States were founded. These criteria leave a few women from my favorites list out. However, there are a certain few who are a great fit:

Harriet Tubman was a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman was a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

  • Rosa Parks
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Nellie Bly
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Lucy Stone
  • Dorothea Dix
  • Julia Ward Howe
  • Susan B. Anthony

In fact, after additional searching, I may even add more women:

  • Ida B. Wells
  • Florence Kelley
  • Margaret Mead
  • Dorothy Day
  • Alice Hamilton and
  • Alice Paul

Okay, so maybe there are more than a few, but can you blame me? These women have gone above and beyond Lew’s criteria, yet they apparently don’t merit a single portrait of themselves on a $10 note. Even Syria, a war-torn and struggling country, has the portrait of Queen Zenobia on its currency without having to feature a man to affirm her status. Perhaps these ideas are too pushy for the American public and government, but is it really too soon to promote gender equality throughout the American system? It is never too soon to promote gender equality. Some may argue that this is only a symbolic representation of equality, but it’s at least a start. The design of the note should represent the equality that the United States aspires to.

Now, on to the actual release of the new design. The Treasury Department hopes to see the newly designed $10 in circulation after 2020, which would be after the 100th anniversary of the nineteenth amendment which codified women’s right to vote. This hinders the W20s campaign to commemorate the 100th anniversary with a woman on the twenty dollar note. There are still many details to work out in the design of the bill and that’s not even considering who will appear on the bill.

The New 10 and the Quest for Equality

At the same time, the American Association of University Women, a women’s rights group, has been using the “New 10” to stimulate interest in the pay gap in the U.S. The association cites a 22% overall wage gap, a 64% gap for black women, and a 54% gap for Latina women. The campaign illustrates the real-life gaps in equal compensation, but as mentioned before, perhaps symbolic equality can be a stepping stone to true equality.

In an interesting development, though, Lew did mention that the new bill will feature a touchable element in order to help the blind distinguish one denomination from the other. Notes have been less practical for distinguishing denomination than coins. The varying size of coins makes differentiating denomination more effective. The new tactile features of a revised $10 note can help the blind identify the denomination of the bill more easily. At least, with the addition of the tactile feature, there will be more equality for some.

Updated Women on Money Campaign

The Treasury is set on portraying a woman on the $10 note and it will continue to take the public’s suggestions into consideration throughout this summer. Lew may reach a decision about who will be on the $10 note soon.

The Department of the Treasury

The Department of the Treasury

People have been suggesting their favorites on Twitter with the hashtag #New10. Perhaps some of my favorites have made it to the finalists. However, there has been a movement to bring back Women on 20s. With the emergence of a new $10 rather than a new $20, the public has wondered why there won’t be a new $20. The campaign has countered every point but one for why the Treasury is remaking the ten dollar note rather than the twenty dollar note. The main points are as follows:

  1. The aesthetic design is a minor issue, but the representations on U.S. money are important symbols.
  2. Redesigning paper notes is a very detailed and strenuous process which requires new technologies and machinery. The technologies and machinery are used to make both noticeable and concealed changes to paper currency.
  3. The Treasury must make a redesigned currency with tactile features and it argues that the $20 note would be a bad choice to test the new features on because it is the most circulated note.

The Women on 20s team has responded to the Treasury’s points by insisting that:

  1. Money does present important symbols which imply American ideals. U.S. money is a messenger, of sorts, which indicates the people and ideas that the United States find substantial and invaluable to anyone who sees or uses it. Wouldn’t replacing the hardened president on the $20 with a deserving woman better highlight the equal opportunity ideals that the United States are supposed to stand for? Rather than risking the degradation of either Alexander Hamilton or the woman chosen to be on the $10 note, the Treasury could redesign the $20 note with a woman instead of a man.
  2. The redesign of paper notes can be strenuous, but maybe instead of redesigning the existing $10 notes, the Treasury can make a separate note which solely presents a woman without the accompaniment a man. If that isn’t possible, the Treasury could call for the removal of Andrew Jackson and make a deadline for such a removal.
  3. The requirement for tactile features is essential for all paper currency, but perhaps it would be a better idea to test the features on a widely circulated note in order to truly test the effectiveness of the features.

The campaign certainly presents solid arguments, but the Treasury has defended its position on redesigning the $10 note. Despite criticisms, there is sure to be a deserving woman on the $10 or $20 note in the near future. It’s all up to you, America.