Editor's Note: The text of this segment was updated with new information on April 15th, 2015.
Money passes through all our hands. But when it comes to who's actually represented on bills, women are woefully left out.
The non-profit organization Women On 20s is hoping to change that. Their goal is to put a woman on the $20 bill by the year 2020. That year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.
And now it seems the U.S. Senate is taking notice—on April 15th, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced new legislation directing Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to convene a panel of citizens to advise him on a redesign of the $20 bill that features the portrait of a woman.
Sen. Shaheen has introduced the Women on the Twenty Act because of the enormous support the Women On 20s organization has received—to date, nearly 500,000 people have voted to put a woman on the $20 bill.
“Our paper currency is an important part of our everyday lives and reflects our values, traditions and history as Americans,” Sen. Shaheen said in a statement. “It’s long overdue for that reflection to include the contributions of women. The incredible grassroots support for this idea shows that there’s strong support for a woman to be the new face of the twenty dollar bill.”
Barbara Ortiz Howard is the founder of Women On 20s. In March, she told The Takeaway why she's so passionate about this cause, who the candidates are, and why it's the $20 bill that she's aiming to change.
“We [had] a ballot with 15 candidates because we couldn’t make it any smaller,” said Ortiz Howard. “We initially thought we’d have 12, but we could have had 1,200.”
Voting began in March at the Women On 20s website. Initial candidates included Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Patsy Mink, and Susan B. Anthony, among several other historic women. After an initial round of voting, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks advanced through the "primary" and to the final round.
Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller was also added to the final ballot as a potential Native American replacement for Andrew Jackson, whose enforcement of the Indian Removal Act resulted in widespread suffering and deaths of thousands of Native American people in the 1830s.
As the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaches, Ortiz Howard says that this symbolic gesture can make a powerful statement. She says having a woman on the $20 bill can send the message that women are not just strong and powerful, but also deserve equality under the law.
“Few people realize that it has been only 100 years since women got the right to vote,” she says. “We need to be doing something huge.”
Ortiz Howard says the non-profit group specifically selected the $20 bill for their campaign because of Andrew Jackson’s troubled history with not just Native Americans and African-American slaves, but also with U.S. law.
“Andrew Jackson flew in the face of the Supreme Court and the Congress when he was so belligerent towards the central bank,” she says. “He wouldn’t recharter them, he took money out of the bank, and the Congress censured him. He’s a really ironic choice for paper money—some even say that maybe it was an inside joke at the Fed to put him on it because he’s so detested.”
As it stands now, the secretary of the Treasury has the power to authorize a change to U.S. currency.
“We want this to come from the people as a mandate to the president and the secretary of the Treasury so we can look to a brighter future,” says Ortiz Howard. “To a future that reflects our values today.”