Editor’s Note: Susan Ades Stone is the director of Women on 20s, and Barbara Ortiz Howard is the organization’s founder. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
Susan Ades Stone, Barbara Ortiz Howard: Treasury Secretary Lew expected to announce that a woman will be on $20 bill -- by 2030
They say he should fast-track the change; women should not have to wait for long overdue recognition
Here at Women On 20s, an organization we formed to advocate for putting a woman on the $20 bill, the messages of congratulations have been coming in at a fast clip. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, according to news reports, is announcing plans Wednesday to leave Alexander Hamilton on the front of the $10 bill and put a woman’s portrait on the face of the $20, booting Andrew Jackson instead.
But we aren’t celebrating yet.
In news reports, government sources also reveal that we won’t be seeing that $20 with a female portrait in circulation until 2030 or beyond. Yes, that’s more than 14 years. As usual, women are being asked to wait, and wait. It’s a wait we’re not willing to endure; we should be well beyond having to beg for something that should have happened a long time ago.
What would make this a true cause for celebration is for Lew to announce that he will fast-track the $20 note, putting it into production alongside the new $10, which is first in line, for security reasons. It took 140 years for women to secure the right to vote. It has been more than 100 years since a woman has been seen on the face of paper currency.
In this day and age, what possible reason could there be for not committing the resources necessary to make this happen? At this pace, we’ll have cancer cured before we see women honored alongside men in the pantheon of paper money.
Some might say we should be satisfied with plans to use the back side of two relatively minor bank notes – the $10 and the $5 – to depict group scenes of women’s activism, while preserving the front-of-the bill portraits of Hamilton and Lincoln respectively. In fact, we had commissioned just such a vignette for the flip side of the $20 that we hoped would feature Harriet Tubman on the portrait side, the choice of the 600,000 people who voted in our online poll last spring.
But with apologies to the (now-Pulitzer Prize winning) creator of the play “Hamilton” Lin-Manuel Miranda – who pressed Lew to leave Hamilton on the $10 – keeping the statesman front-side, with an assemblage of barely discernible women on the backside of the bill, is hardly a way to commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.
We have suggested before that perhaps a forward-thinking leader such as Hamilton would be the first to offer to share the front of his bill with a woman. And that bill could be ready by 2020. But soon after – not 10 years later – Treasury should be ready to replace Jackson, the symbol of hate and intolerance (see Trail of Tears) who comes flying out of every ATM, with a woman like Tubman, who represents inclusion and freedom.
Exactly 10 months ago today, Lew promised the American people that he would put a woman front and center on the next redesigned U.S. bank note, the $10 bill by 2020, and a collective cheer could be heard from classrooms to workplaces nationwide.
He since has not only reneged on that pledge, but he is sending a message both here and abroad that women and their accomplishments are not important. In a Women On 20s video that went viral during our campaign last year, kindergarteners were frustrated and baffled when they couldn’t find a single bill with a woman’s face. “Girls are just as important as boys,” one girl shouted, throwing her hands in the air.
That’s right, Secretary Lew. Show girls that they rule, too. And don’t make them wait until they’re out of college. Make this a victory for the people of all ages who were inspired to participate in this open source currency design by giving them a woman’s bill soon.
At a time when both the U.S. Treasurer and the head of the Federal Reserve Board are women, this seems like a no-brainer. If the $20 bill were under threat of counterfeiters, our can-do country would marshal the resources and brainpower to overcome any technical hurdles and come up with a secure note in a hurry. We shouldn’t have to wait for a woman president to make this a priority.