How many women have appeared on American banknotes?
While Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony, and Sacajawea all have had their moments on coinage, paper money is unsurprisingly full of the faces of dead white dudes. But female contributors to American history do make appearances on dollar bills — or at least they have historically. The Baptism of Pocahontas, a John G. Chapman painting, was reproduced on a $20 banknote in the middle of the 19th century. And in 1886, 1891, and 1896, First Lady Martha Washington appeared on silver certificates (representative money printed from 1878 to 1964, redeemable at the face value of silver dollar coins).
Military payment certificates, a retired form of currency that only military and authorized civilians used overseas, have featured far more women. From 1946 to 1973, the lithographed bills featured idealized versions of Lady Liberty, American women, and the helpless victims of foreign powers. These images were not only created and selected for monetary purposes; they reminded soldiers what they were fighting for, and their beauty made who they represented all the more valuable.
The Bank of England announced this year that Jane Austen would be put on a 10-pound note – which sparked enormous controversy with the public.
In the United States, bank notes have not been updated since 1929. People whose faces have “permanent familiarity” to the American public were chosen for the notes. There is no requirement that one has to be a president before being printed on a bill, as Benjamin Franklin’s face on the $100 note proves. In fact, the only real requirements for one to be featured on paper currency are to be American and dead.
What women would be prime candidates for being put on banknotes? Just a few worthy options include Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and famous writers and abolitionists. The list could go on.
As for choosing faces with “permanent familiarity,” aren’t the faces of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Franklin instantly recognizable at least in part because they appear on banknotes in the first place?
So what do you say: is there room for a woman on future American banknotes?