The Treasury Department made a welcome and long coming move this week announcing Wednesday that abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s image will appear on a new series of $20 bills. Tubman will be the first African-American to appear on U.S. paper currency and the first woman in more than a century. The last time (essentially the only time) was during a stretch of years in the 1880s and 1890s, when Martha Washington, most famous for being the wife of George, appeared on a $1 silver certificate. The bill was issued in 1886 and discontinued by the turn of the century.
The only other time a woman has been featured on U.S. paper currency was in the 1860’s when Native American Pocahontas appeared on the backside of a $20 bill (a lot of money back then). Women have been more commonly featured on U.S. coins: the Susan B. Anthony dollar, the Sacagawea dollar, and Helen Keller’s appearance on an Alabama special-issue quarter.
It has been so long since a woman has been on paper currency in the United States that we are now in an age where scholars debate whether paper money should be phased out entirely.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump blasted the decision to replace Andrew Jackson calling the move “pure political correctness.”
“Andrew Jackson had great history,” Trump told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill. Andrew Jackson had a history of tremendous success for the country,”
Jackson’s presence on the $20 bill has long faced criticism due to the slave-owning president’s role in removing Native Americans from their lands in the Trail of Tears.
Despite the number of people using cash on a day-to-day basis steadily declining, the decision is an important and historic one. The change won’t come until 2030 but having Harriet Tubman on the $20 is a wonderful honor for one of American histories most important figures.