What do Syria, the Philippines, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand, Israel, Sweden, Australia, and England have in common? According to Susie Poppick of Time Magazine, those countries all feature women on banknotes. The United States, on the other hand, does not feature a single woman on our banknotes.
The lack of women being noted traces back to the suppression of women’s rights that continued well into the 20th century. Z. Bryon Wolf, a critic for CNN, stated that “in the United States, there is no shortage of notable women, but banknotes have not been updated since 1929, nine years after women gained the right to vote.”
However, there is now a movement to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a famous American woman. In a primary held by the advocacy group “Women on 20s,” over 256,000 people voted to present four women as replacements to President Obama and Treasury Secretary Lew. The four women are Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Wilma Mankiller, all ground-breaking women in American history.
While the movement has garnered success, the approach that the “Women on 20s” group has taken has also received some criticism. While he agreed that a woman should be featured on an American banknote, writer Randy Blaser disagreed with the idea of replacing Andrew Jackson. He argued that “Jackson was once considered a great president of the people. He was a populist, up-from-the-bottom president who wielded presidential power like never before. He was the father of the spoils system and even nipped an early threat of secession in the bud.”
Some may say that women have already appeared on US currency: Sacagawea has appeared on a special silver dollar coin since 1999, and Susan B. Anthony appeared on the same coin from 1979-1981, according to Wolf. But who uses these coins on a regular basis? Most people keep it tucked away in a desk drawer, unseen and unused. And additionally, these are not the same as American banknotes.
I think the time has come to feature a woman on an American banknote. In fact, I think a woman should have been on a bill a long time ago. One would think that a nation would want to use its currency to commemorate and celebrate the accomplishments of women who have served as Supreme Court justices, inventors, civil rights activists, business owners, and diplomats.
There is also a solution for the kind of criticism that Blaser offers. While people may not want to replace significant historical figures already featured on American currency, why can’t the American Treasury Department engrave multiple “versions” of the $20 bill, or any other bill?
There could be different versions of the same bank notes; perhaps creating a $20 bill featuring Andrew Jackson, and another featuring Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, or another iconic woman from American history. This system has worked immensely well in the Eurozone already. Each country has its own national design on one side of Euro coins, while the other side is universally the same. Under this system, people would not need to worry about removing anyone from currency, and would gain being able to display woman on all denominations of American banknotes.
Featuring women on American currency would confront consumers in the United States with the accomplishments of women on almost a daily basis, and would represent an important step towards gender equality in the civic sphere. “Women on 20s” has made a compelling argument in favor of putting a woman on the $20 bill, and I agree we should do just that. With the ability to print multiple versions of the same bill as the Eurozone does with coins, why stop at just the $20 bill? Let’s put women on all the US banknotes.