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Currency affairs: Campaign underway to place female face on $20 by 2020

Who’s in your wallet?

Unless traveling with cash from another country, the portraits on your paper money are all males. 

But they are not all dead presidents — that’s Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, Ben Franklin on the $100 and Salmon P. Chase on the $10,000 bill.

So that’s one argument that can be set aside in the debate over whether Harriet Tubman’s portrait should be on the $20 bill instead of Andrew Jackson’s mug.

A nationwide nonprofit grassroots group, Women On 20s, petitioned President Barack Obama to place a woman’s likeness on U.S. currency. The goal is to accomplish this by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Women On 20s conducted multiple rounds of online voting, from which Tubman emerged the winner on Mother’s Day.

Some 30 women were considered during the caucus phase of the selection process, which involved 100 historians, academics and museum curators as advisers.

Primary voting took place March 1–April 5, with voters selecting the top candidates from a field of 15: Alice Paul, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, Rosa Parks, Barbara Jordan, Margaret Sanger, Patsy Mink, Clara Barton, Frances Perkins, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Tubman.

Voters nominated three women to the final ballot: Roosevelt, Tubman and Parks.

And, because of strong public sentiment to have a choice of a Native American to replace Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller was added to the final ballot. Jackson, who has been on the $20 since 1928, fought for the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and renewed a policy of military action to drive the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole and Cherokee nations from their homelands.

In the final vote, Tubman, the escaped slave, Union spy, abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad, won the popular vote.

“Our paper bills are like pocket monuments to great figures in our history,” Women On 20s executive director Susan Ades Stone said in a statement. “Our work won’t be done until we’re holding a Harriet $20 bill in our hands in time for the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.”

The group submitted the petition to the White House on May 12 and urged the president to instruct Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to change the $20 and have a new bill in circulation before the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, has introduced the Women on the Twenty Act. Senate Bill 925 would direct the treasury secretary to convene a panel to recommend a woman whose likeness would be featured on a new $20 bill.

“Our paper currency is an important part of our everyday lives and reflects our values, traditions and history as Americans,” Shaheen said. “It’s long overdue for that reflection to include the contributions of women. The incredible grassroots support for this idea shows that there’s strong support for a woman to be the new face of the $20 bill.”

Did you know?

The Secretary of the Treasury may order new portraits and designs on currency. The federal Commission on Fine Arts reviews all the designs.

By U.S. Code, the people featured on paper currency have to be deceased for at least two years.

They also must be recognizable to the general public.

— L.N.


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