Fresh Face on $10 Bill? Not So Fast, Say Hamilton’s Female Fans

A large copy of a ten dollar note hangs inside the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., U.S.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Even as Alexander Hamilton is celebrated in a hit Broadway musical, he soon may have to share his space on the $10 bill with a woman. Not so fast, says a surprising group: prominent women in economics and finance.

Abby Joseph Cohen, president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Global Markets Institute, and Carmen Reinhart, a Harvard University professor of the international financial system, both said Hamilton shouldn’t be diminished on the currency. They joined a chorus of observers this month who want the Treasury Department to put a female image on the $20 note instead.

“There should not be a woman -- or anyone else -- on the $10 bill because Alexander Hamilton deserves to retain his place,” Reinhart said in an e-mail. “Hamilton is a towering figure in American finance and his success offers the positive role model that a penniless Caribbean immigrant can change the course of world events.”

The Obama administration announced earlier this year it will put a woman on the $10 bill because that note is next in line for a redesign and needs more protection against counterfeiting. The new currency will appear in 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment that extended voting rights to women.

Lew, who said July 29 he would make the decision “in the very near future,” held roundtable discussions about the new $10 with students at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and local community members in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Roosevelt, Tubman

He’s also talked to historians including Doris Kearns Goodwin, a biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Catherine Clinton, who has studied Harriet Tubman, the escaped black slave who became one of the country’s leading abolitionists in the years before the Civil War.

Cohen and Reinhart are echoing criticism from former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who said he was “appalled” the Treasury was planning to demote Hamilton, America’s first Treasury secretary. He too said a woman should instead replace Andrew Jackson on the more widely circulated $20.

Lew, who has said the new $10 bill will honor both Hamilton and a woman, may have a difficult time pleasing everyone given the constraints of the currency redesign schedule.

“Hamilton has long been one of my heroes for his prescient economic and political leadership at the founding of the nation,” Cohen said. “Why not keep Hamilton on the $10, and put a deserving woman on the $20 bill in place of Jackson?”

First Lady

Hamilton established an economic and banking system that supported the growth of the young nation, according to Cohen, who favors Roosevelt -- first lady from 1933 to 1945 and an activist for women, human rights and civil rights -- instead of Jackson on the $20.

“The financial structures he put in place, which were inappropriately denigrated by Andrew Jackson, have stood the test of time,” she said of Hamilton. “One cannot say the same for Jackson’s legacy, which includes the horrific treatment of Native Americans.”

The criticism of the plans for the $10 bill comes mostly from financial professionals, said Clinton, an American history professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“You have so many people in the financial community who might well want to worship at the altar of Alexander Hamilton,” she said. “Women need to take these gestures and seize on the moment when they can.”

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