For as long as the U.S. monetary system has existed, paper bills have portrayed only male historical figures, but a new movement has added a woman to these bills.
Harriet Tubman in particular is to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, while the former president is relocated to the rear, according to an April 20 New York Times article.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew called for this change to “replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist,” according to Jackie Calmes of the New York Times.
Harriet Tubman, a 19th-century abolitionist, escaped slavery and then helped other slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Tubman went on to aid the Union in the Civil War, in which she acted as a spy and then became a women’s suffrage activist.
Sophomore Delaney Row said she hadn’t heard about the change.
“I think this is a great change our society is making,” Row said. “It’s nice that both women’s rights and blacks’ rights are being supported through this. Money is something most of us handle almost everyday, and using something we see everyday as a part of a movement toward equality is a great way to spread it.”
Felicia Kornbluh, professor of history and gender and women’s studies, said when she heard the news, her first reaction was, “Way to go U.S. treasury,” and that she was surprised.
“The notion that women are full citizens and fully capable of political actors in the public world is still something that we’re struggling with a bit,” said Ellen Andersen, political science and gender, sexuality and women’s studies professor.
“It’s one more symbol of feminism and women coming from the margins into the mainstream,” Kornbluh said. “How much more mainstream can you be than the American currency?”
“The fact that it’s an African-American woman is important because feminism is often derided as a white movement, and there have been a lot of internal battles about race, so I think it’s a great gesture,” she said.
“Every time [people] take out their wallet with a $20, what they’re going to see is an African-American woman with an amazing story on the front of their money,” Anderson said. “That’s a little bit of subliminal recognition that people other than white men played and continue to play a really important role in this country.”
“I think there’s a peculiarly wonderful irony that a woman who was once sold for money now actually comes to embody money,” she said.
However, some black feminists have a different idea about this new movement.
“As a feminist, I think this campaign is well-intentioned,” wrote Feminist Jones in a May 15 Washington Post column. “Women are rarely acknowledged as important contributors to the creation and development of the United States, and Tubman especially is regularly overlooked.”
However, “Her legacy is rooted in resisting the foundation of American capitalism,” Jones wrote. “Tubman didn’t respect America’s economic system, so making her a symbol of it would be insulting. I do not believe Tubman, who died impoverished in 1913, would accept the ‘honor’ …of having her face on America’s money.”
Expert in feminine social and political theory and sociology Professor Eleanor Miller thought “it was great” upon hearing the news of the Harriet Tubman edition. “Although, I think women should have their own dollars instead of sharing!” she said.
When asked how she felt about the angry feminists’ opinions,“they are right, but that is just a minor and whole different issue. This is just symbolic,” Miller said.
She also said she disagreed with the idea that Tubman would not be pleased with this change.
The final redesigns of the Harriet Tubman $20 bill will be revealed in 2020, according to the New York Times – just in time for the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.