There’s a movement afoot (visit womenon20s.org) to persuade President Obama to kick bad ol’ Andrew Jackson off the $20 and replace him with a real historical great woman from the pages of American history.
I’m all for this. Women have appeared on U.S. currency before. The abstract Liberty figure has been on a few different American coins of antiquity, most spectacularly on the obverse of the gold $20 “walking liberty” coin of some decades ago. A representation of Sacagawea was on one of the new gold-colored dollar coins of a decade and a half ago. More concretely, Susan B. Anthony was on the ill-fated Susan B. Anthony dollar coins of 30-plus years ago. But there hasn’t been a real woman’s image on any major (defined as one that people use daily) piece of American cash ever, and that’s reason enough in and of itself to make a change.
Jackson has some redeeming qualities as an American and president (he was a defiant little cuss in the Revolution, won the Battle of New Orleans and upheld the concept of federalism during the Nullification Crisis), but let’s face it — his abominable record of displacing and outright killing Native Americans was a bonafide crime against humanity. So off he goes, and good riddance to him. I think the level of achievements of Washington, Lincoln and Franklin have earned them permanent spots on their bills, but Hamilton and Grant could probably stand to be rotated out as well. (I have a lot of opinions on U.S. currency; for instance, I would like to see the wheat penny brought back but I suppose there would be pushback from the anti-gluten …)
The women-on-$20s movement has drawn up a list of 15 candidates for the $20 — Rosa Parks, Clara Barton (no relation, but she does kind of look like us), Betty Freidan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Barbara Jordan and Margaret Sanger made the cut, as did Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony (again) and Frances Perkins.
But my favorites — and call me a homer if you must — are two locals, Sojourner Truth of Esopus and Eleanor Roosevelt of Tivoli and Hyde Park. Both were pioneers in moving women forward in society and both are stellar examples, not just for girls but for all of us, of how to be a good person and make a difference in the world. Truth was a strong early voice for abolition, Roosevelt a strong later voice for equal rights and social justice. Truth worked tirelessly to spread the word about the evils of slavery and oppression of women and helped raise black troops to fight for the Union and against the slavers of the Confederacy. Roosevelt served as the eyes, ears and in many ways the conscience of her decidedly less-principled husband, traveling the land and the world during the Depression and World War II to help the downtrodden and advance the causes of freedom and kindness. The role of the First Lady would never be the same after her. Her post-White House work on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also worthy of praise.
Either would be great on the $20. Hell, ditch Hamilton and Grant too and put ’em both on, and someone else from the list as well: perhaps Stanton, the founding mother of the women’s movement in this country. It’s about time the money better reflected the reality of our lives and the pivotal role women played and will continue to increasing play as our moral arc bends more and more toward justice.