Funds with Female Faces
By BELA KIRPALANI
As many have heard, Harriet Tubman, former slave, abolitionist, and leader of the Underground Railroad, will boot former President Andrew Jackson to the back of the $20 bill. Also, five female suffragists and three civil rights leaders will be added to the backs of the $5 and $10 bills, respectively. While this is a monumental step in the history of the United States, it is also a long overdue symbolic makeover of American currency.
This is a wonderful step for women across the nation, yet, it is unfortunate and perhaps even intentional that the redesigned bills won’t be put into circulation until the year 2020. Credit cards are already taking over as people’s main source of payment and as paying with credit cards through phone technology becomes easier, one may wonder if paper bills will soon become antique.
For me and many others, there is no questioning of Tubman’s heroics and qualifications for being the face of the $20 bill. Few can touch her uniquely American story for determination and courage. She was illiterate and suffered from seizures. For 11 years, she was the most determined conductor on the Underground Railroad. She made 13 expeditions into the South in the middle of night guided by the North Star and freed more than 70 slaves by leading them into northern free states and Ontario. On top of that, she never lost a single passenger.
Now, onto the controversial mess that is President Andrew Jackson. On one hand, Jackson was a war hero and one of the nation’s first true populist leaders. He’s also considered to be the founder of the modern-day Democratic Party. But he was also a slave owner and a ruthless general. He led a cruel campaign against Native Americans, forcing them out of their homes and across the country. The spoils system was a trademark of his time in office.
It may seem like an insult to make Tubman and Jackson share a bill because she fought against much of what he stood for. However, at the same time, this two-faced bill represents the dichotomy that is America, the land of the free and the not-so-free. The good and the bad. Removing Jackson completely from the $20 bill would mean departing from our sometimes valiant and flawed history. We tell the full scope of our story by adding, rather than subtracting. Our current conversations about race and gender should carry the full weight of where we’ve been and where we’re going.
While there has been some controversy to the “Tubby Twenties”, the same cannot be said of the response to the new additions on the $5 and $10 bills. Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill, undoubtedly thanks to the hit Broadway musical production “Hamilton”, and Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and Sojourner Truth will adorn the back of the bill. This is a monumental occasion for America, and one that I believe isn’t being appreciated enough.
There has been a very short and sad history of women on currency in America, but this decision is a giant step in the right direction towards rectifying that; from putting Martha Washington on a silver certificate in 1886 that no one used and subsequently got discontinued in 1957, to the Susan B. Anthony silver dollar coin that stopped being made in 1999, to the Sacagawea golden dollar coin that was taken out of circulation in 2011 (Do you catch my drift here?). Historically in the United States, female figures have been put on coins that no one really uses and then taken out of circulation. This is why the U.S. government’s decision to incorporate empowering female icons on our paper bills is such an important accomplishment for women across the country. Soon, the U.S. will join other nations such as the Philippines, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, and many more in having a woman on currency that is frequently used by its citizens.
One thing Anthony, Stanton, Paul, Mott, and Truth all have in common is their perseverance towards fighting for women’s rights. They came from all walks of life and had extremely important impacts on our society, so it is only right that we finally properly recognize them as we have recognized many of our Founding Fathers and great male leaders.
Let’s not forgot about the $5 bill that is also getting an upgrade of sorts. While former President Abraham Lincoln’s image will still grace the front of it, the reverse side of the bill is set to “honor historic events that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial,” including moments made memorable by the likes of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., opera singer Marian Anderson, and former first lady and human rights advocate Eleanor Roosevelt.
Soon, when every woman opens her wallet and pulls out a bill with the face of another woman on it, she will feel a sense of pride and belonging. From Tubman to Roosevelt, each of the women that will be memorialized on our money has accomplished extraordinary feats and deserves the kind of recognition that she will get come 2020. Anyone who has a problem with it can give me the bills. I will gladly accept!
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