History & Culture

The Buck Stops Here: Women Who Will Be on Your Bills

Here’s a look at some of the new faces that will grace our money over the next decade.

Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, and Andrew Jackson. We all know their faces because we’ve seen their portraits on our money for the past hundred years or so. But all that is about to change and over the next decade, our $5, $10 and $20 bills will be graced by a new set of faces, and these will be the faces of women.

$20 Bill: Harriet Tubman

Largely emergent from a non-profit grassroots organization initiative, Women on 20s, whose tagline is “A Woman’s Place is on the Money,” the new $20 bill will now feature a woman to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. More than 600,000 people cast votes in their online campaign and Harriet Tubman beat out the 84 other women considered, just edging out Eleanor Roosevelt (the other top candidates were Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller). In a real-life form of poetic justice, Andrew Jackson, who has consistently been a controversial figure because of his passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that drove Native American tribes off their resource-rich land and into Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears to make room for white European settlers, will now appear on the back of the bill and Tubman, an escaped slave who became one of the country’s leading abolitionists before the Civil War and helped her family and others escape from Southern slavery as a “conductor” on what is now known as the Underground Railroad, will be now be prominently featured on the front of the new $20 bill. Tubman will be the first ever African-American to appear on any form of U.S. currency and the second woman to be on U.S. paper money. (First Lady Martha Washington appeared on the $1 silver certificate in 1886, 1891 and 1896; Three other women have appeared on U.S. coinage: Susan B. Anthony on the dollar coin from 1979-1981, Sacagawea on the dollar coin beginning in 1999, and Helen Keller on the reverse of the 2003 Alabama quarter).

$10 Bill: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and Sojourner Truth

Susan B. Anthony Coin By unbekannt (Transferred by Heubergen/Originally uploaded by ARoth) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Susan B. Anthony was the first woman to be featured on American coinage—sans Lady Liberty—when her portrait appeared on the redesigned version of the Eisenhower one-dollar coin. (Photo: unbekannt (Transferred by Heubergen/Originally uploaded by ARoth) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Keeping in theme with the changes to the $20 bill, on the back of the newly redesigned $10 bill sit five powerful women who contributed to the women’s suffrage movement including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and Sojourner Truth. 

Anthony, a staunch women’s rights activist who cofounded the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1869 with Stanton, spent her early life fighting to end slavery and after the Civil War, she focused on equal rights for women. But this is not the first time Susan B. Anthony has appeared on United States currency. Anthony was actually the first woman to be featured on American coinage—sans Lady Liberty—when her portrait appeared on the redesigned version of the Eisenhower one-dollar coin in 1978 (however, fewer than 800 million were minted and it was quickly out of circulation). It seems Anthony will get another “money-shot” and this time, at a ten times greater value.

This is, however, the first time Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, also both pioneers in the drive for women’s suffrage and anti-slavery activism, will be featured on U.S. cash. Their roles in the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention secured them a place in women’s rights history and it is notable that they will be commemorated in this way.

Joining these suffragettes is Alice Paul who co-founded the National Woman’s Party (NWP) with Lucy Burns in 1916. She and Crystal Eastman are well-known for their introduction of the first Equal Rights Amendment to Congress in 1923. Paul and the NWP advocated tirelessly for women’s political, social, and economic equality drafting more than 600 pieces of legislation from their headquarters just a few steps from the U.S. Capitol located at 144 Constitution Avenue, Northeast, in Washington, D.C. which was designated as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument by President Barack Obama in 2016.

Sojourner Truth will join them, making her the second African American to be featured on U.S. paper currency after Harriet Tubman. An emancipated slave, women’s rights activist, and abolitionist, she is most well-known for her 1851 powerful speech, which is often referred to as “Ain’t I a Woman,’’ in which she eloquently refers to the importance of women’s rights as equal to those of men’s.

$5 Bill: Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr.

While the redesigned $10 bill tells the story of women’s suffrage, the redesigned $5 bill tells a different but equally significant set of tales. Although President Abraham Lincoln will remain on the front, the back will now feature two historic events that happened at the Lincoln Memorial: Opera singer Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

Harlem Renaissance Figures: Songstress Marian Anderson made her contralto voice heard as an opera singer who performed at Carnegie Hall in 1928 and at the New York Metropolitan  Opera House in the 1930s, the first black performer to ever do so. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

After opera singer Marian Anderson was barred from performing at Constitution Hall because of a “white artists only” clause, her free open-air performance at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939 sent a powerful message to the world about racial segregation.(Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the renowned African American opera singer, Marian Anderson, to perform at Constitution Hall because of a “white artists only” clause in its contracts. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, an outspoken human rights advocate, intervened on her behalf and Anderson gave a free open-air performance at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, drawing in 75,000 people, with millions more tuning in on the radio. Along with Eleanor Roosevelt’s support, Marian Anderson’s riveting 1939 performance sent a powerful message to the world about racial segregation.

In 1963, American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. called for an end to racism in the United States in his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, his speech was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement and serves as one of the most powerful, influential moments in American history.

Martin Luther King Jr. Photo

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. (Photo:  Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)

Changing Dollar Bills

The faces on U.S. currency have remained largely the same for the past 100 years and these proposed changes send a powerful message: that women’s rights and racial equality are important to the American people. The importance of who is featured on currency should not be understated; after all, our money has great social value and the people that appear on it are taken at more than just “face” value, they are viewed as symbols of our country, of our values, and of our merits.

So these new faces, those of abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and powerful social reformers change our message substantially. Alongside presidential stories, our money will now tell the tales of activism and social change. Although some are disappointed that the $10 and $5 bill redesigns are relegated to the back of the bills, overall, these changes send a powerful message of social equality that would likely make those featured on the newly redesigned $20, $10, and $5 bills proud.