She was a passionate suffragist.
She created a nursing home for African-Americans.
At one point, the reward for her capture reached $40,000.
She earned $20/month in pension following the end of the Civil War.
She was often behind enemy lines, operating as a scout for the Union.
She is credited with aiding in the liberation of over 3,000 enslaved Africans.
She was an ardent anti-slavery advocate who dedicated her life to the abolition of the “peculiar institution”.
And she’ll be the first woman to be featured on a United States banknote in more than a century.
If you guessed Harriet Tubman, then you win $20!
Unless you were sleeping under a rock, you probably heard that anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman-a black woman-will be replacing President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. This is a monumental move. A historic one even. Tubman was an immensely courageous woman who devoted her life to the cause of ending slavery. That she risked life and limb by returning to the slave holding southern states over and over again is amazing. The dangers she faced. The difficulties she must have encountered. And yet she returned, so many times. She must have known the danger. She had to have had an awareness of what would happen if she were to be captured. But she soldiered on, placing her safety second, or third, behind helping to free enslaved Africans. To continually do that, knowing the deadly consequences that she would likely face if she were caught, is a testament to her commitment to the ideals this country was founded on. She deserves to be on the $20 bill far more than Jackson, who was a slaveholder who supported genocide against Indigenous people. If the idea behind placing someone on U.S. notes is to honor a well-known, important, or influential figure in USAmerican history, I’d much rather it be someone who fought for the ideals of equality and justice, rather than someone who fought against such values (some people disagree, but given that many of them refer to slaves as “property” and Tubman as a “thief”, I can’t say I value their opinions- at all).
Placing Harriet Tubman on a $20 bill is an important gesture. It signifies an acknowledgement by the United States government that a black person-a black woman-holds a position of historical importance, and one worth commemorating. Throughout USAmerican history, black people have seen our accomplishments downplayed, dismissed, denigrated, and demeaned. While this is mostly symbolic (it does nothing to further the cause of ending racial inequality), it is still an important move, bc it signifies that we have helped shape this country. It recognizes that we have also been movers and shakers throughout the history of this nation.
Similarly, women have also been extraordinarily important throughout the history of the U.S. Whether it’s in science, literature, philosophy, religion, or politics, women have helped stitch the fabric of this country. As such, if we’re going to have people on our currency (I’m not convinced this is necessary though), women ought to be on more than a few. After all, men are not the only important people in the U.S. Men did not build and create everything. Men are not the only people to perform noteworthy deeds. Having a woman on the face of U.S. currency for the first time in over a century is overdue.
Did I say woman? I meant women:
Marian Anderson, who died in 1993 at age 96, is perhaps best known for her performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, which on Wednesday the U.S. Department of the Treasury said it plans to depict on the reverse side of the redesigned $5 bill.
“I was more excited about Marian Anderson than almost anything else, because this is a woman whose story is so important,” says Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “I don’t think people really understand both what happened, and the symbolic value of what she accomplished by singing on Easter morning in 1939.”
Jillian Pirtle, chief operating officer of the Marian Anderson Historical Society, which includes the Marian Anderson Residence Museum, the Philadelphia home that the singer purchased in 1924, says that Anderson “was known as having the voice of the century.”
“The great lady from Philadelphia was by far one of the most important and historical figures of the 20th century, and she made that remarkable distinction through her music and through her humanitarianism,” she says.
Anderson was born one of three siblings in Philadelphia in 1897—though she reportedly said the year was 1902. Her father, who died when she was young, sold ice and coal and ran a liquor business, and her mother was a schoolteacher and later cared for children. Her paternal grandfather was born a slave.
Tubman and Anderson are not the only women who will be featured on U.S. notes. We’re getting some suffragists too (albeit on the back of the $10 bill):
Last summer, the Treasury said that an update to the $10 bill (which was originally announced in 2013) would feature a woman. But things got complicated from there, with lobbying to instead re-do the $20 or create a $25 bill with a female honoree.
Instead, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in an open letter that he has accelerated plans for redesigning the $5, $10, and $20 notes.
Despite the historic nature of Tubman replacing Jackson, the first one to hit our wallets will be the $10 bill, which needs to be redesigned for security purposes.
“As I said when we launched this exciting project: after more than 100 years, we cannot delay, so the next bill to be redesigned must include women, who for too long have been absent from our currency,” Lew wrote, of a compromise for the bill.
Hamilton fans (of both the man and the musical) will be relieved to learn that his visage will still grace the front of the note. The flip side, though, will feature an homage to the Women’s Suffrage Parade of 1913 (thousands marched from the Capitol to the Treasury Building) and leaders of the women’s suffrage movement: Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott.
My coffee mug was already overflowing with the whiny male tears of the bigots angry over their slave-holding hero being relegated to the back of the $20 bill. I’ll need another mug (or two), as the MRAs and various other antifeminists are sure to be angry over more women on our paper currency. I’m starting to think these fragile men shouldn’t leave the house. They’re so delicate.
I found out this morning that Marian Anderson, along with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt will be featured on the back of the $5 bill. In addition, several suffragists will be featured on the back of the $10 bill.