It may always be “all about the Benjamins.” But maybe it should also be all about the Bartons, the Tubmans or the Roosevelts.
Clara Barton, the Civil War nurse who founded the American Red Cross; Harriet Tubman, who served as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and a Union Army nurse during the Civil War; and Eleanor Roosevelt, who redefined the role of the First Lady and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations, are among 15 women who are offered as candidates to replace President Andrew Jackson on the U.S. $20 bill.
The effort, Women on 20s, seeks to replace Jackson with a woman important to U.S. history and culture, and it hopes to see the change to the $20 by 2020, when the 19th Amendment, giving women the vote, marks its 100th anniversary. While women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony and Lewis and Clark expedition guide Sacagawea have been honored on the dollar coin, it would be the first time a woman would be so honored on U.S. paper currency.
Jackson was first placed on the $20 note in 1924, bumping off President Grover Cleveland. The U.S. $20 was last redesigned by the U.S. Treasury in 2003, so it’s due for a new look and new anti-counterfeiting features that were added to Benjamin Franklin’s $100 bill in 2013.
The campaign makes a couple arguments for removing Jackson, one of which would likely please Old Hickory, himself; Jackson was a critic of the central banking system and favored gold and silver coinage over paper money. While Jackson was celebrated for his victories in the War of 1812, as president he also was responsible for ruthlessly enforcing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, also referred to as the Trail of Tears, which forced Indian tribes from their ancestral homelands in the southern U.S. to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Few figures in U.S. history are without their flaws, but there were better choices than he for the $20.
Admittedly the list of 15 women suggested by Women on 20s, which offers an online ballot asking people to choose three candidates for further consideration at womenon20s.org, leans to the left. Among the candidates are Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood and “Feminine Mystique” author Betty Friedan. Including some candidates more palatable to the right would have broadened the campaign’s appeal. But there are candidates who can find support among left and right, including abolitionist Sojourner Truth and women’s rights pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Women on 20s hopes to gather 100,000 petition signatures to forward to President Barack Obama and the Treasury Department, which would have the final say.
One hundred years after women secured the right to vote, it’s appropriate to honor their contributions to our history and society by honoring one of them with a small paper portrait we carry with us.