The campaign to put a new face on the twenty dollar bill—replacing Andrew Jackson with a woman is growing fast. Gail Collins wrote a column about it in the N.Y. Times not long ago and she gives us the link to the official campaign site www.womenon20s.org The argument is that dead white men have monopolized U.S. currency ever since the country
began issuing money and it’s time for a change. We see the familiar faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Andrew Jackson on the bills we use every day. Not a woman in sight!
In this, as in so many other ways, the United States is more conservative than many other countries. Britain, of course, has Elizabeth II on the currency as do many of the countries from the Commonwealth. But they don’t stop with the monarch. Australia has put Nelly Melba, the opera singer, on its currency, Canada honors the first woman judge, Emily Murphy, and of course Argentina has Eva Peron. Denmark has placed the author, Karen Blixen on its currency. Surely it is time that America follows their lead and portrays a woman.
The Women on 20s campaign has a list of candidates to replace Andrew Jackson and they are good ones. There are lots of familiar faces—Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks and others. One of my favorites would be Frances Perkins, the first Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt. I’ve written about her on this blog before. She was the person most responsible for setting up the Social Security program that has changed the lives of so many older Americans.
Another favorite of mine is Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress and in 1972 became the first African American woman to become a candidate for a major party nomination for President. Throughout her Congressional career, Chisholm worked to improve the lives of people living in the inner city and struggling with poverty and poor job prospects. She pushed through a bill guaranteeing a minimum wage for household workers and supported increases in education and health care.
Both Frances Perkins and Shirley Chisholm worked through the political system, just as the men who are now on our currency have done. Perhaps we should change the scope of the search and look at candidates from entirely different fields. If I had a completely free choice, I think I’d pick a poet—someone who was a little less serious about being in the company of the sober, serious men who inhabit the other currency. How about Emily Dickinson with her confession—
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us -don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
If a poet can be nobody, then surely the twenty-dollar bill can be even less important. That’s something that might make us feel better as we see them flying out of our wallets every day. But of course perhaps all of our currency is flying away. As the Apple Watch comes on the scene, none of us may need currency any more. Emily and Andrew as well as George, Abraham, and Ulysses and the bills they represent may be merely historical footnotes as our technological world moves on.