Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced a proposal Wednesday to dramatically change U.S. currency by replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill and adding women’s rights and civil rights leaders to the $5 and $10 bills, The New York Times reported.
Specifically, the portrait of Jackson will be moved to the back of the $20 bill, while the $10 bill will maintain a portrait of Alexander Hamilton on the front but will gain a quintet of suffragists — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul — on the back. On the $5 bill, the picture of the Lincoln Memorial will gain the images of three people who made contributions to the historical site: Marian Anderson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt.
These changes, which are among the most sweeping to U.S. currency in a long time, come after Lew floated a proposal to remove Hamilton from the $10 bill last year, the Times reported. That proposal faced growing opposition from a number of people including an online group called Women on 20s, which believes that a woman should be added to the $20 note, which is much more common than the $10 note. The original proposal also faced opposition from Hamilton supporters who were buoyed by the release of “Hamilton,” a wildly popular musical based on the first secretary of the treasury’s life.
The only hitch in the plan is that the new notes are not scheduled to go into production until late 2020s, the Times reported, meaning that it might be a decade or more before the new bills show up in American wallets. Of course, the worry is that by the late 2020s, paper money might be on its way out, replaced by digital equivalents. Also, with the presidential election approaching, it important to note that the next secretary of the treasury can override Lew’s decision and stick with the bills we have now. While the Times reported that Lew does not foresee this possibility, it undoubtedly is still a concern.
While some people praised the proposal, others worried that the change in plans means that a new note featuring a woman on the front will be delayed. The Times reported that Lew has instructed the U.S. Treasury to speed up production of the $5 and $20 notes, but it is unclear if their development will be able to catch up to the development of the $10 bill, which was supposed to be developed alone. It is therefore possible that the $10 bill will be issued first, with the $5 and $20 bills following afterwards.
While I understand the concerns that have been raised, the end result of Lew’s new proposal will be a much more diverse set of currency than was originally proposed. For this reason, I hope that the next secretary will bring about these changes. As I’ve written before, it is essential that we continue to work to close the gender gap. While issuing these notes will not bring exact equality to U.S. currency — men will still outnumber women on the front of bills — this is an important step that should be taken.