Treasury Picks Tubman for $20 Bill, Hamilton to Stay on $10

  • Abolitionist Tubman bumps ex-slave owner Jackson off $20 front
  • Hamilton's popularity on Broadway helped secure his $10 spot

U.S. Treasury Picks Harriet Tubman for $20 Bill

Abolitionist Harriet Tubman will appear on the front of the $20 bill, replacing former President Andrew Jackson and becoming the first woman and first minority featured on U.S. paper currency in modern times, the Treasury Department said, in a design overhaul that will leave Alexander Hamilton on the $10 note.

The move is the latest chapter in a 10-month controversy that erupted after Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew tried to address gender imbalance on U.S. currency notes. He opened up the selection process to the public just as the current face on the $10 bill was enjoying a resurgence in notoriety, and outrage ensued.

“It’s a decision that reflects a good deal of listening,” Lew told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. “Harriet Tubman struck a chord in all parts of the country.”

The announcement is Lew’s way of threading the needle between women’s groups who have been advocating for gender diversity on U.S. currency and fans of Hamilton, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright and star of the hit Broadway musical about the nation’s first Treasury secretary. Miranda lobbied Lew to keep Hamilton on the $10 note when he visited Washington last month.

To appease those who have been looking forward to a woman on the $10 bill, the flip side of the Hamilton note will include suffragists Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul, according to the Treasury.

Jackson’s portrait will be relegated to back of the $20 bill, along with the image of the White House.

The back of the $5 will be amended from a picture of the Lincoln Memorial to show three people -- singer Marian Anderson, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt -- who made historical contributions to the memorial site.

"With this decision, our currency will now tell more of our story and reflect the contributions of women as well as men,” Lew said.

Tubman escaped slavery and became a leading figure in the movement to abolish the practice before the Civil War. She led hundreds to freedom along the Underground Railroad to the North, where slavery was banned. During the Civil War, she served as a spy for the Union Army.

It may take several years for the new bills to reach circulation and the changes aren’t guaranteed: A future president can roll back the Treasury’s promises.

In June, Lew announced the government’s plan to feature a woman on the $10 bill, the first time in more than a century a woman has graced the nation’s paper currency. But the search turned to debate after former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and others objected to the removal of Hamilton from the $10 note.

The popularity of the Broadway musical "Hamilton" provoked a wave of interest in the man who played a leading role in creating the U.S. financial system and helped the country repay the debt it amassed during the Revolutionary War.

Suggestions by Lew that a woman might not feature on the front of the new bill triggered a backlash among women’s rights activists. Lew suggested in an interview March 30 with Charlie Rose that the government might leave Hamilton’s portrait on the front, saying the former Treasury secretary is one of his heroes.

Promises Made

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” Lisa Maatz, American Association of University Women’s vice president of government relations, said last week, before the new bill was introduced. “A promise was made and it should be fulfilled. I don’t know any particular reason why they would back away from it."

A group of women including feminist icons Gloria Steinem and Marlo Thomas and soccer star Abby Wambach sent a letter to Lew on Wednesday before his announcement urging him to put a woman on the front of the $10. They started a Twitter hashtag #NotGoingBack to urge him to keep what they said was a promise to replace Hamilton with a woman.

“As a country, it is about time we put our money where our mouth is in the fight to support women,” they wrote.

The politics of swapping out Jackson might be easier. He had been a slave owner and is not enjoying a renaissance like Hamilton. Jackson was put under the lens last year in a book by National Public Radio journalist Steve Inskeep, who examined Jackson’s role in forcing Native Americans from their homelands.

Women on 20s, the group that has led the charge to feature a woman on U.S. currency, sent a letter to Lew and U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios last week asking that they fulfill the promise to put a woman on the $10 bill.

In their letter to Lew, Women on 20s wrote that “relegating women to the back of the bill is akin to sending them to the back of the bus.” Analogies to Rosa Parks, a black woman whose refusal to sit in the rear of a city bus made her a symbol of and leading civil-rights activist, “are inevitable,” the group said.

Hamilton Fans

Along with women’s rights activists, Hillary Clinton, who’s campaigning to become the first female U.S. president, has weighed into the debate. Miranda performed for President Barack Obama and his guests last month in an intimate East Room performance.

Bernanke wrote last year that it would be a shame to demote Hamilton, "the best and most foresighted economic policy maker in U.S. history."

The new bill was set to be unveiled in 2020, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment extending voting rights to women. The $10 note already was due for a makeover to incorporate security and technological upgrades, a five-year process.

While there have been Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea dollar coins in limited runs, the last time women were pictured on U.S. currency was in the 1800s -- Martha Washington on a $1 certificate and Pocahontas in a group engraving on some currency.

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