The US dollar bill is getting a makeover and a portrait of a woman will appear on the country’s banknote for the first time, Treasury Secretary Jacob L. Lew announced Wednesday.
Harriet Tubman, an African-American, former slave and abolitionist, will replace Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar bill in a historic move. Andrew Jackson, a former US president, was also a slave owner. It is the first time that a woman will be featured on the front of the nation’s currency.
“Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embodies the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we will continue to value her legacy on our currency,” Lew wrote in an open letter on Medium.
Tubman, who died in 1913, relentlessly worked to free her family and others from slavery as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses that led to freedom, from the American South, where slavery was legal, to the North where the practice was outlawed. Also known as “General Tubman,” she led a military expedition that freed more than 700 people in South Carolina.
Lew also announced that the reverse of the new 10 dollar bill will pay respect to leaders of the American suffrage movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul — and the reverse 5 dollar bill will have an image to honor the events at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. It was here Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his momentous “I have a Dream” speech.
The new bills, expected to be in use by 2020, is seen as a fitting tribute to mark the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage in the US.Last year, “Women on 20s” campaigned for a woman to be chosen to be on the banknote before they submitted their petition to President Barack Obama and the Treasury Department for the new face of the 20 dollar bill.
The non-profit, which has been campaigning to feature a woman on the US currency, picked Tubman from a primary list of 12 women, chosen from over 100 names, after a public poll. The final contenders included former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, civil rights activist Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller, the first elected chief of the native Cherokee Nation.
But for some, changing the face on the country’s currency, though it signifies a historic shift, is only a “gesture.”
During the presidential debate in September, then-Republican candidate Carly Fiorina said “it doesn’t help to change our history.”
“What I would think is we ought to recognize that women are not special interest group,” she said. “Women are the majority of this nation, and this nation will be better off when every woman has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.”
But on Wednesday, as the Treasury Secretary formally announced the decision, activists hailed the move as “honoring women in this most visible fashion.”
Susan Ades Stone, executive director of Women on 20s, said having Tubman on the US dollar bill “powerfully inspire the quest for gender equality going forward.”
“This is just as much a victory for the millions of American people, young and old, who cared enough about women and their worth to rally for this historic change,” Stone said in the non-profit’s press release.