An abolitionist. The longest-serving first lady. The Labor secretary through the Great Depression. The founder of the Girl Scouts.
These are some of the candidates to be the first woman on U.S. currency notes in more than a century. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced the plans this week, saying the all-male lineup on American money has gone on long enough.
“We will right that wrong, and when the new, redesigned $10 note is released, it will bear the portrait of a woman,” he said Thursday at the National Archives in Washington.
While Lew gets to decide who is featured, he and other Treasury officials will fan out across the country to solicit suggestions. They’ve set up a website and enlisted Twitter to spread the word. A non-profit group called Women On 20s, formed to convince President Barack Obama to put a woman’s image on the $20 note, already has done some polling.
The winner in that contest was Harriet Tubman, the escaped black slave who became one of the country’s leading abolitionists in the years before the Civil War, helping hundreds to freedom. She got 118,328 of a total of 352,431 votes in the final round.
She is also a symbol of the U.S. economy’s transformation, according to Justin Wolfers, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
“The key drivers of the economic growth over the past century or so have been both the emancipation of the African Americans and the integration of women into regular economic life,” Wolfers said in an interview. “Selecting Harriet Tubman obviously speaks to both of those movements.”
The Treasury is collecting feedback on the website thenew10.treasury.gov and with the Twitter hashtag #TheNew10. It will also host open houses, starting June 24 at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth, Texas.
Lew will attend some of those public meetings. He said he has “a bunch of candidates” but will withhold his judgment until he hears from the American people. He plans to make a decision later this year. The only requirements are that the person be deceased and fit the theme of democracy.
Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady from 1933 to 1945 and an activist for women, human rights and civil rights, was second in the Women On 20s poll. She is favored by the Association of Junior Leagues International Inc., an organization she belonged to in its early days.
“She was really instrumental in founding the movement for future generations of civic leaders and was there right when it started,” said Laurie Dodge, director of marketing and development at the association.
The Girl Scouts endorsed Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the organization in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia.
“She was a champion for democracy and a force for good,” the organization, now based in New York and with more than 2.8 million members in the U.S., said on Twitter late Wednesday.
The Treasury expects to unveil the new $10 bill in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The department can’t specify when the new notes will start circulating, because selection and design of the image will be followed by an exhaustive production process. The redesign of the $100 note issued in October 2013 took about 14 years.
Barbara Ortiz Howard, the founder of Women On 20s, said her organization is fine with a woman on $10 rather than $20 notes. Either way, the goal of seeing a female on paper money by the voting rights centennial is achieved, Howard said.
More than 600,000 people voted on Women on 20s list of 15 candidates during a 10-week period. On May 12, the organization presented Obama with the results.
Another candidate could be Frances Perkins, Labor secretary from 1933 to 1945 and the first woman appointed to the Cabinet, Wolfers said. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, is backing Perkins.
“Frances Perkins was the labor secretary at a time when the Department of Labor was incredibly active,” Wolfers said. “She helped establish unemployment benefits, the minimum wage, the adoption of the 40-hour work week, and a range of worker protections that make up our modern safety net.”
Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is backing Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement.
The $10 bill was chosen for the new image because it was designated by a special committee on security and counterfeit deterrence in June 2013 as the next currency note to be redesigned. The committee, which includes representatives from the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, the Secret Service and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, focuses on security features that can be used to deter counterfeiting.
Lew said that $10 note will be the first in the new series of redesigned notes, all including images capturing the theme of democracy.
The last changes of portraits on U.S. currency were between 1914 and 1928, when four adjustments were made: Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, replaced Andrew Jackson on the $10 bill; Jackson’s image moved to the $20 bill, replacing Grover Cleveland, who now graces the $1,000 bill; and William McKinley replaced John Marshall on the $500 bill.
Lew has said that Hamilton’s image will remain part of the new $10 bill. The last woman to appear on U.S. paper currency was Martha Washington in the late 19th century.