Though it’s not what many expected or what was promised in terms of upcoming changes to American currency, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is set to announce that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson’s face on the $20 bill.
In June 2015, Lew had stated that a woman would be chosen to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, but the renewed interest in Hamilton after a popular Broadway play about him began caused many to urge Lew to reconsider. Instead, Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States and a slaveholder, will have his face replaced by Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.
Harriet Tubman is an iconic figure of the American Civil War and the Underground Railroad. As an African-American abolitionist, she escorted hundreds of slaves in their escape to freedom from the South and later worked to gain women’s suffrage.
Although this is a huge step in the right direction, it’s not the step that many fighting for putting a woman on a bill are looking for and Lew is facing backlash for his decision. Since the $10 bill is up for a revamp of its anti-counterfeit features, it’s likely that the new choice, Harriet Tubman, would have graced the front of the $10 bill sooner than she will on the $20 bill.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing plans to unveil the designs in 2020, just in time for the centennial celebration of women’s suffrage. The actual bill, along with several new designs for the backs of the other bills, won’t be released for up to 10 years. To add insult to injury, the centennial marks 100 years since the mostly white women’s suffrage.
A group of high-profile women, including Ellen Degeneres, Gloria Steinem, and Katie Couric, wrote and released an open letter to Lew asking him to reconsider his decision because of the length of time it will take to complete the $20 bill. They said, “As a country, it is about time we put our money where our mouth is in the fight to support women.”
They also addressed the proposed plans of including women on the back of the $10 and $5 bills. Lew is expected to include images of leaders of the women’s suffrage movement on the back of $10 bill and civil rights era leaders on the back of the $5 bill. Andrew Jackson is also likely to remain on the back of the $20. In the letter, the women said about the idea of putting women on the back of the bills: “Could there be a better metaphor for the second-class status that continues to limit our girls?”
Though the announcement may have been met with controversy, it’s a relief that women are finally going to be represented in American currency. Progress in the U.S. is slow but equality for women is on the horizon.