21 February 2018

Harriet Tubman will appear on $20 bill

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Abolitionist Harriet Tubman, barrier-breaking opera singer Marian Anderson and female suffragists won’t be the first real-life women to appear on major United States paper currency, but they will be the first in more than a century.

Pocahontas once graced the back of the national $20 bill in an image, based on a painting now in the Capitol Rotunda and on a note first issued in the 1865, that portrayed her baptism.

She appears dressed in a gown and kneeling on a podium before a priest, flanked by settlers on one side and Native Americans on the other.

Martha Washington, the United States’s initial first lady, appeared on U.S. $1 silver certificates in 1886, 1891 and 1896.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced on Wednesday, that Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Other women will appear on the backs of the redesigned $5 and $10 bills. As the Pocahontas and Martha Washington notes went out of circulation in the late 1800s, and likely disappeared for good by the 1920s, it has taken more than a century for historical female figures to return to prominent positions on U.S. money.

“This is the first time that Americans have had a big national conversation about what our banknotes looks like,” says Ellen Feingold, curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “The fact that women’s history is being included and honored on American banknotes is a huge shift, a huge moment.”

During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said women “for too long have been absent from our currency.”

Lew said Jackson will now appear on the reverse side of the $20 bill. Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill, but the updated reverse side “will honor the story and the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement against the backdrop for the treasury building,” where they demonstrated for the right to vote in 1913, Lew said.

The front of the $5 bill will continue to depict Abraham Lincoln, while the updated reverse side will depict events at the Lincoln Memorial, including Anderson’s famous 1939 performance there. Eleanor Roosevelt helped organize the event after the Daughters of the American Revolution prohibited Anderson from performing there because of her race. Later, Anderson became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It is not immediately clear how prominent the depiction of Anderson in the image will be. Another new image on the reverse side of the $5 bill will feature Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 appearance at the Lincoln Memorial, during which he gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.

The Treasury Department said the unveiling of the new designs will coincide with the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.

2016.04.21 / 12:26
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