Andrew Jackson out, Harriet Tubman in on the $20 bill?

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Pretty soon, we may be seeing a new face on the old, familiar twenty-dollar bill, thanks to the efforts of a campaign called Women on 20s. Since 1920, the likeness of President Andrew Jackson has graced the twenty, but the movement to replace him with a famous woman from American history has picked up steam – catching the attention of the White House and Congress. They’ve even voted on the most suitable replacement and Harriet Tubman was the top choice among a distinguished field of candidates.

The Women on 20s campaign conducted a survey of 100 people, among them notable women’s rights advocates and historians, as to which of the 15 candidates they thought should be put on the $20 bill. Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Rachel Carson, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, Barbara Jordan, Patsy Mink, Rosa Parks, Alice Paul, Frances Perkins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman were the choices. They then open voting on their website, collecting 60,000 tallies, with Tubman was the winner, though civil rights figure Rosa Parks, first lady and human rights advocate Eleanor Roosevelt, and Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, were also finalists. The campaign isn’t just about seeing a woman on the twenty, but hopes to educate and empower women in modern day America by connecting us all with strong women from our history.

“We chose historical figures who had really changed the lives of many people and we also took into account the challenges they faced getting there,” said Susan Ades Stone, Executive Director of Women on 20s. “We wanted adults and kids alike to look at these names and think ‘I don’t know enough about this person, and maybe I should find out more.'”

The Women on 20s campaign is preparing for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 2020, which granted women the right to vote. They’d love to see the idea of changing the face of currency become a reality by then.

Just how realistic is it that we’ll be changing our official currency? The campaign has gained legitimacy to add to its cultural popularity, as Women on 20s has met with lawmakers and even inspired bills in both the house and senate. In April, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced a bill that urged the Treasury Department to endorse a panel of citizens to discuss the idea of putting a woman’s face on the twenty-dollar bill. Any findings or conclusions would then be sent up to the Department of the Treasury for review.

Last week, Women on 20s even delivered their official petition to the White House, who took notice. Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying that Tubman was a “wonderful choice” for the bill, and Obama characterizing it as a great idea, though not offering their official endorsement.

However, any change to U.S. currency needs to come from the Department of the Treasury, not the White House. Current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew makes any and all decisions about currency; including who’s faces are on which bills. In fact, the last time they switched out someone onto a bill was in 1929, when Andrew Jackson usurped Grover Cleveland on the $20. But there are good reasons why Jackson is probably not the best representative of our national ideals anymore, points out Women on 20s, as he was an “enthusiastic supporter of policies that were harmful to the Native American population, including the measure that led to the Trail of Tears.”

There are practical reasons why making a change on the twenty by 2020 make sense, as well. Every seven to ten years, the U.S. Treasury makes small alterations to the design of our paper money, to foster security against counterfeiting among other reasons. And the twenty-dollar bill happens to be overdue for that redesign. The significant cost to change from Jackson to the image of Harriet Tubman, or anyone else, would be absorbed into the regular design process.

If (and when) it comes to that, Tubman is a great choice – one of the most inspiring women from American history. Born into slavery in Maryland, she escaped to freedom to the north. But she returned to the south again and again, a reported 19 trips, to help other African-American slaves escape to freedom. Over her life, she was responsible for emancipating over 300 slaves as a conductor of the legendary Underground Railroad. She went on to serve as a nurse and cook in the Civil War for the Union Army before being recruited to work as a spy. Tubman became the first woman in U.S. history to lead a military expedition in 1863, when she led a mission up the Combahee River to free 750 slaves alongside Col. James Montgomery.

But the U.S. government failed to give her official recognition or even pay her the military pension that she was entitled to before her death in 1913. Putting her face on the 20-dollar bill would be a great validation and recognition for Tubman’s life’s work, and an inspiration to all of us.


Do you agree with changing the $20? Who would be your top choice? We’d love to hear your feedback!


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