By Linda Smith
We now can say that we live in a world where women are CEOs of large corporations, great scientific leaders who spearhead technological advancements, government officials at the local and national levels and powerful role models for young girls wanting to enter any career field.
However, the world is not perfect, and in the United States, women receive 78 percent of the pay that men do, according to aauw.org. Women still face discrimination in several public areas, at times solely due to the fact that they might become pregnant. Women are also noticeably absent from U.S. currency.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury has a Q&A article in its currency section titled “Portraits & Designs,” which explains the current faces on our dollar bills. The only “criteria” listed in the article states, “the portraits on our currency notes are of deceased persons whose places in history the American people know well.”
The current faces found on our currency were chosen in 1928, with modifications made for the sake of security starting in 1996. The current roster of portraiture includes George Washington on the $1 bill, Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill, Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill and Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill.
While all these men made significant contributions to history and no doubt fit the criteria, the list is obviously woman-less. It should be noted that both Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea can be found on $1 coins. However, the Susan B. Anthony coins were discontinued after the production of 800 million due to people confusing them for quarters, and the Sacagawea coins have never been a popular option of payment.
One perceptive person who noticed the lack of women on commonly used currency was nine-year-old Sofia from Massachusetts. She wrote a letter to President Obama precociously asking, “Why don’t women have coins or dollar bills with their faces on it?” At the bottom of the letter, Sofia included a list of women who would be great candidates for the face of the $20 bill, including Ann Hutchinson, Rosa Parks and Michelle Obama, to name a few.
Obama mentioned her letter in a speech, and wrote her a belated note in which he said that she and the group of women she proposed were “pretty impressive,” and, “I’ll keep working to make sure you grow up in a country where women have the same opportunities as men, and I hope you’ll stay involved in issues that matter to you.” Since this exchange, the Women on 20s campaign has picked up steam, and Sofia serves as a junior ambassador for the cause.
Some might ask: Why withdraw Andrew Jackson from his place on the $20 bill? According to the campaign website, there are two major reasons why organizers want to replace Jackson: his infamous, negative treatment of Native American peoples during his presidency, and the fact that he opposed the central banking system and the use of paper money, yet ironically he is memorialized on one of our most commonly used bills.
The $20 bill would be significant for women, as the year 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted suffrage to women.
Several candidates were considered for the proposed currency, with over 85, including influential women like Abigail Adams, Queen Ka’ahumanu, Georgia O’Keefe and Madam C.J. Walker, not making it to the primary round of voting. Fifteen others, including Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Lucretia Mott and Nellie Bly, almost made it to were chosen, and people were able to vote for three of the 15 to make it to the last round of voting.
The four candidates on the final ballot are Rosa Parks, the woman who resolutely refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus and started the Montgomery bus boycott that led the U.S. closer to racial equality; Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief of the Cherokee nation and first elected female chief of a Native American nation in modern times; Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as a U.N. delegate and became the “First Lady of the World”; and Harriet Tubman, a woman born a slave who fled to the North and helped over 300 slaves do the same, and later became a nurse, scout and spy during the Civil War.
When a winner is decided, Women on 20s will pronounce its final choice to Obama, proposing the bill’s creation by the year 2020.
The only way to continue to give women the full attention they deserve is to make them increasingly visible, by celebrating the women who have done so much for our country. For more information on the candidates and to vote, go to womenon20s.org.