What Ten Women Want on the $10 Bill

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Washington, DC, June 19, 2015 | comments

POLITICO Magazine

We know by now that an American woman will appear on the redesign of the $10 bill, but who will it be? Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is soliciting recommendations, so Politico Magazine asked leading women writers, politicians and thinkers to give us their picks, and tell us why—or whether—the new face of the bill matters.

 

Frances Perkins:

Frances Perkins was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, when she was appointed the U.S. secretary of labor in 1933. She served in that position until 1945, making her the longest serving labor secretary. Perkins was instrumental in the execution of the New Deal, the establishment of Social Security, welfare and unemployment. She was instrumental in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which created the first minimum wage and labor standards, and was a catalyst for women entering the civilian workforce in huge numbers during World War II.

Frances Perkins is not often taught in United States history courses, and yet she is arguably one of the most important women in modern U.S. economic history. She serves as an example of a woman who worked her way up to the highest level of her profession—all while raising a child and being the sole breadwinner in her family. It would be an inspiration to all young women to see Frances Perkins on the New Ten. —Debora Spar, president of Barnard College and author, most recently, of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection

 

Harriet Tubman:

I hardly see the faces of Jackson, Franklin, Lincoln, Washington that are imprinted on my money. Their legacy and privilege is so absolute they have become strangely invisible. But the idea of a woman on my money suddenly makes my $10 something real, something visible and valuable. Harriet Tubman’s face is the face of another story of America, the face of women of color and marginalized women who have been the pillars and movers of every social justice movement, the face of a woman who was one of the greatest abolitionists of her time, a fighter of racism—one of the most heinous destructive institutions that has, since our origins poisoned the soul and destroyed the core of this country. Racism, it’s cancer infiltrating every aspect of our present daily life from police shootings, to horrifying terrorist attacks on black people in prayer, to poverty, mad incarceration, sexual violence. The lives and stories of people of color, from the indigenous ancestors on, have all but been disappeared in the national narrative and living history. The face of Harriet Tubman on our $10 bill would be a reminder, an honoring, a call to the past that we never forget. But more importantly it would be a cry to transform our future, a challenge to rise to Harriet’s morality, courage, vision, in carving a new way. Let’s make our money alive, like a talisman where each time we exchange $10 we exchange a new energy and determination of a world where racism is obsolete and equality is the new value. —Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues

 

Eleanor Roosevelt:

Eleanor Roosevelt remains a fearless inspiration for American women in public life. She opened the frontier for First Ladies to become active partners in leadership, almost as second presidents. Franklin Roosevelt could not have sustained himself to become a monumental president without Eleanor daring to be his political surrogate while he was crippled by a bout of polio.

A product of high society, she chose the then-lowly profession of social worker and demonstrated her natural leadership abilities by working for the Red Cross in World War I and later by working for the cause of women’s suffrage. Orphaned at a young age and denied the faithful love of her husband, she rose above these blows to self-confidence to empower millions of others. She held press conferences with women reporters, promoted the betterment of African-Americans, wrote a newspaper column and gave public lectures to explain the purpose of Roosevelt’s New Deal to lift Americans out the Great Depression and support them with Social Security into old age.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s life’s work embodied the vision to which she gave words in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She created the bridge from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”—to include the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”  —Gail Sheehy, author of 17 books, including Passages and Hillary’s Choice

Eleanor Roosevelt has been a hero of mine my entire life. She was a trailblazer in so many ways, including being an outspoken First Lady for social and racial justice, a champion of human rights on the international stage and a fearless defender of women’s rights. There are many women worthy of being on the $10 bill, and she is undoubtedly one of the most fitting choices. —Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

 

Emily Dickinson"

She is one of America’s greatest writers. —Martha Nussbaum, professor of law at the University of Chicago

 

Amelia Earhart:

Amelia Earhart sought to do the impossible. Her courage, keen sense of adventure and compassion should be a source of inspiration to us all, especially young women. She proved that the sky really is the limit. —Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)

 

Patsy Mink:

From the suffragettes to civil and women’s rights leaders, there are countless remarkable women who have shaped our history and would be fitting to feature on the new $10 bill. One such exceptional choice would be trailblazer Patsy Mink, a woman I considered a friend and inspiration. Time after time throughout her life, Patsy faced setbacks and was excluded from traditionally male spheres, but she selflessly committed her career to increasing opportunities for all Americans and broke countless barriers along the way. Patsy grew up on a Maui sugar plantation and went on to be the first woman of color to serve in Congress, ran for president and authored the landmark Title IX legislation that continues to open the door of opportunity for millions of girls. This legislation, renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal aid. Title IX has given millions of female students and athletes a fair shot to compete in school and on the playing field, and it has fundamentally transformed our society by creating a fair and inclusive education system. In 2014, Patsy was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. Patsy, like the other women who should be considered for the new $10 bill, had relentless determination and took risks to better our nation. It is long overdue for women and girls to be represented on something as fundamental to American life as our paper currency. —Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii)

 

Rosa Parks:

I’d love to see Rosa Parks on the $10 bill. I know that seems like an obvious choice, but we’re talking about putting a face on money here. This is one of those few situations where shunning subtlety is called for. You need a face that is recognizable, ideally attached to a person whose history of heroism is irrefutable. Parks meets all that criteria, with her infectious smile and signature glasses. Plus, while she’s most famous for kicking of the Montgomery bus boycott, she has a long history of fighting for civil rights and standing up for rape victims. She’s a figure that helps connect our pasts to our (hopeful) future. I wish all our money had people like her on it. —Amanda Marcotte, writer in Brooklyn and blogger at Pandagon

 

Just One?

It’s difficult for me to make a case for one woman to be on American currency, in part because a) it’s insane that we don’t already have women on our currency and the idea of having to select one! single! lady! now! is preposterous and b) it’s hard for me to get past the thorough bungling of this currency change roll-out.

First, let’s be clear: It’s not even that that one symbol of all-American womanhood to be named later is going to get a denomination to herself. It’s just that Alexander Hamilton is, I guess, going to be moving over a little on the 10 to make room for a dame. It’s kind of like he’s getting a wacky new roommate, with whom Treasury producers hope he has good chemistry. I also love how they’re making a big deal about how this is a special gift to American women in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. I mean, how big of you, Treasury Department! Just to be girly about it, it reminds me of that line from Steel Magnolias: “I bet you take the dishes out of the sink before you pee in it!” What better way to celebrate a century of white American women’s enfranchisement—since black women couldn’t count on a right to vote until 1964—than to offer us half of a $10 bill, especially while Andrew Jackson gets to keep the 20 to himself!

And now we get to pick one—one—woman. It’s on us to find that special lady who sums up several centuries worth of American accomplishment, at least from the perspective of half the population of previously unrepresented Americans. No problem! I understand: We can’t possibly take Washington, Hamilton, Jackson, Franklin, Kennedy, Lincoln off our currency because those guys were very important. So why not just print up an alternate set? With Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells and Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks and Kim Kardashian. Then American women can earn and spend our statistically smaller wages using our very own coins and bills, just like we have our own pens and Legos. I actually think John Oliver suggested this idea not long ago: Ladybucks!  —Rebecca Traister, senior editor at the New Republic

 

Any of the Above:

I’m a big fan of so many of the women who are being suggested, and any one of them would be absolutely great. I would add to that list Frances Perkins, who is the first woman Cabinet officer and the author of Social Security. She certainly has affected many lives. All of them are women of courage, women who have made a difference. I’ve tried to respect and honor some of them when I was speaker. Some of it didn’t come to fruition until after, but we got started even before—with a statue to Rosa Parks in the Capitol; the bust of Sojourner Truth in the Capitol; Helen Keller, we have a statue to her. We came in and said, “Interesting, gentlemen, but we have others who have contributed to the success of our country.” So I’m pretty excited about it all—all of the names that have been suggested. In fact, we might want to look at some other denominations as well. Why should we be confined to one? And I hope that, by the time that woman appears on the $10 bill or even sooner in preparation for that, we should have equal pay for equal work. That would make it even more significant. —House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

 

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