When I was in eighth grade, my family and I took a vacation to England. It was an awesome trip, from visiting Oxford (or Hogwarts, as I recognized it) to Big Ben to the London Eye. Something else stands out about my first trip across the pond: Seeing Queen Elizabeth’s face on pound notes was the first time I saw a woman’s face on paper money.
Over the past several months, the call to put a woman’s likeness on the $20 bill has risen to national attention. Suggestions have ranged from Sojourner Truth to Emma Lazarus to Margaret Sanger. A grassroots campaign, Women on $20s, held an online election in which hundreds of thousands of voters chose Harriet Tubman as their top choice to appear on the bill.
Though these great women of American history represent only a small fraction of the candidates worthy of consideration, there has never been a woman on paper money in the United States. We’ve seen women on coins, but only coins of limited use; the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollars were each limited in circulation due to the general unpopularity of the one dollar coin. Yet women have been of far more than limited use to our nation’s success; they’ve been instrumental in shaping the United States to be what it is today. It seems only fair that we see women represented on the money alongside the other great figures of our history.
In June 2015, the Department of the Treasury announced that a woman would appear on a new $10 bill starting in 2020, to mark the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. Champions for women’s equality took this announcement as a mixed victory - with excitement and pride that we’ll finally see a woman’s face on paper currency, with frustration and disappointment that we’ll have to wait another half decade, and with aggravation and confusion as to why the Treasury chose the $10 and not the $20 as originally proposed. Advocates first called for a woman’s likeness to grace the $20 to replace President Andrew Jackson, whose legacy is complicated by his unjust treatment of Native Americans, his involvement in the slave trade and - with regard to his appearance on the money - his disdain for paper currency. Alexander Hamilton, who currently appears on the $10, was our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, a visionary founder who designed our monetary system and an overall upstanding historical figure.
As the first Jewish denomination to ordain women, and as a people long committed to fighting for women’s rights, the Reform Jewish community takes pride in our tradition of advocating for equality for all people. We celebrate the progress we’ve made by advancing women’s roles in public, social, religious and political life, yet we cannot rest knowing that inequality continues, whether on the money and in public representation, in the halls of government or in educational opportunities. By featuring historical figures on something so central to everyday life as the $10 or $20 bill, we highlight more role models for women and girls to become engaged in public service and public life. Equality must be reflected in every facet of our society in order to constitute true equality for all.