Project Section: Currency

Currency


Why are there no women pictured on our paper currency? It’s not for lack of trying. Activists have petitioned the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving for over a century to include portraits of notable American women, but to no avail.

The last time a woman’s portrait appeared on a U.S. currency note was in the 19th century, before the establishment of our modern monetary system. Martha Washington’s portrait appeared on the face of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1886 and 1891, and the back of the $1 Silver Certificate of 1896. There hasn’t been a single woman’s face on our paper currency since then.

The situation with our coinage isn’t much better:

  • The first woman to be pictured on an official U.S. coin was Queen Isabella of Spain, who appeared on the Columbian Expedition Quarter Dollar coin in 1893. The next coin to depict women — real women, not mythological images of “liberty” — was the 1937 North Carolina Half Dollar, which showed Virginia Dare and her mother Elinor on Roanoke Island.
  • The Susan B. Anthony Dollar was introduced in 1979, and withdrawn from circulation after a year. It was briefly re-issued in 1999.
  • The only other coins featuring women are essentially collector’s issues: the 1995 Special Olympics Silver Dollar, featuring Eunice Kennedy Shriver; the 1999 Silver Dollar depicting Dolley Madison; and the 1999 Sacagewea Gold Dollar.

In the 1950s William H. Brett, the Director of the U.S. Mint, responded to one petition to put a woman on the coinage with obvious condescension. He wrote:

“There is nothing to be said against a pretty, smiling face. However, officials concerned with designating United States coins feel that a more solemn countenance is more in keeping with the dignity of the United States, which the coinage represents.”

We’d like to believe that’s an attitude that no longer exists. But the fact remains that women’s faces on our money are still scarce. Consider:

  • Whenever there is talk of putting a new portrait on the currency, the candidates are always male: Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King.
  • Although the U.S. Mint has created new design series in recent years — as with the state quarters — no women are included in the new images. Similarly, the Bureau of Engraving has modified the paper currency to improve resistance to counterfeiting, yet has refused to consider including more portraits of women as part of the revised designs.
  • It’s not true that only “dead presidents” are depicted on the currency. Neither Benjamin Franklin nor Alexander Hamilton were presidents. Salmon P. Chase and Chief Justice John Marshall are other non-presidents whose portraits have appeared on U.S. paper currency.

Our Currency project will focus on addressing the gender bias in our coinage and currency. We will, first of all, urge the government to include more women’s images on our coins. We will also advocate that a second set of paper currency be issued, featuring images of great American women.

Please email us at currency@equalvisibilityeverywhere.org if you’d like to be involved in this effort. We need volunteer coordinators, researchers, letter writers, interns, and helpers of every description (see our How You Can Help page for more).

Watch this space for updates as the project takes shape.

Currency Project Updates

Brother, can you spare a quarter?

From the U.S. Mint:

“Launched in 1999, the United States Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program was a 10-year initiative that honored each of the nation’s states in the order that they ratified the Constitution or were admitted into the Union. Each quarter was produced for about 10 weeks and will never be produced again. State designs are displayed on the reverse (tails) of the quarters, while the obverse design displays the familiar image of George Washington.”

4statequartersSo what’s the problem? Each state got their own quarter, as did the District of Columbia and each of the five U.S. Territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa), for a total of 56 beautiful brand new quarters, celebrating the history and grandeur of the United States.

It’s not the fact that the states got the quarters that’s a problem. It’s what they collectively chose to put on the quarters that’s a problem. Many states chose to illustrate America’s noteworthy topological features such as the Great Lakes (Michigan), the Rocky Mountains (Colorado) and the 10,000 lakes (Minnesota). Some states chose to honor significant historical events such as the Louisiana Purchase (Louisiana) or the journey westward by wagon train (Nebraska). Animals were a popular choice: Alaska appropriately chose the bear, Washington State the salmon, and Oklahoma their state bird, the scissortail flycatcher. The quarters are all unique and beautiful.

But here’s the rub. Ten states chose to honor specific individuals or events associated with individuals. Nine of those states honored men. Only one state honored a woman.

What men were honored? John Muir (California), Caesar Rodney (Delaware), King Kamehameha I (Hawaii), Abraham Lincoln (Illinois), Lewis and Clark (Missouri), George Washington Crossing the Delaware (New Jersey), the Wright Brothers’ first flight (North Carolina), the four presidents of Mount Rushmore (South Dakota), and Duke Ellington (Washington, D.C.). If you include Massachusetts’ quarter depicting a Minuteman and Wyoming’s quarter with a cowboy riding a bucking bronco, there are actually eleven quarters honoring men or featuring prominent male figures. Eleven.

Who was the lone woman honored in this sea of masculinity? Helen Keller, from the great state of Alabama. My hat is off to her.

The lack of women on our nation’s quarters is a serious issue. These quarters are not a relic from the past. They were minted between 1999 and 2009, and women still were not included. Out of the 112 images that comprise the fronts and backs of our nation’s quarters, there is only one picture of one woman.

Have we contributed nothing to our country? How did we become so invisible? What does this say to our sons and daughters about the status of women?

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There’s something about the new $100 bill

May 3, 2010 by Suzanne Scoggins, Director of Women's History   · Comments Off

new bill unveiling

Here’s a rather funny take on the new $100 bill (see our own blog posts here and here) from the Detroit Free Press: Caption This — The new big bill.

The editors of the Detroit Free Press asked readers to caption the photo (right) from the unveiling ceremony.

These were the editors’ favorite responses:

  • “I think he looks disgusted.”
  • “We had to put the Great Wall of China on the reverse side.”
  • “And this is our new $100 bill. It costs $200 to make and is worth $50.”
  • “Big money, big money, big money. I’d like to buy a vowel.”
  • “Everyone in the audience gets one of these after the show!”
  • “I didn’t realize that inflation could be this big!”
  • “Let’s run off a million of ’em, then seek Goldman Sachs’ advice.”
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Women deserve representation on U.S. currency

(Ed. Note: This editorial was originally published in the Baltimore Sun on Friday, April 30, 2010.)

Earlier this year, Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, introduced legislation that would take President Ulysses S. Grant off the $50 bill and replace him with President Ronald Reagan. This legislation has sparked currency wars as Reagan supporters try to unseat Grant, who has held jurisdiction over the $50 bill since 1913. The original $50 bill was issued in 1863 and sported a picture of Alexander Hamilton. The images of seven different men have graced the fifty, George Washington being the only other president. The other men so honored were Henry Clay (1869), Edward Everett (1878), Silas Wright (1882) and William Seward (1891).

As Reagan and Grant supporters duke it out over who should be on the $50 bill, not a single legislator has proposed a woman who could represent the 51 percent of the population that hasn’t been seen on our nation’s currency in more than 100 years. What makes this especially surprising is that 92 women currently serve in the House of Representatives and hopefully understand the importance of female representation on our nation’s currency. …continue reading

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Currency in the News

Grant vs. Reagan – Bill proposed to replace Grant on $50

April 1, 2010 by EVE   · Comments Off

Published on April 1, 2010 in the News Democrat: GEORGETOWN — No offense to Ronald Reagan, but several area supporters are not pleased with a legislative attempt to remove the face of Ulysses S. Grant... ...continue reading

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GOP Lawmaker Pushes to Put Reagan’s Face on $50 Bill

March 6, 2010 by EVE   · Comments Off

Published March 2, 2010 on on FoxNews.com: Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., introduced legislation Tuesday that would replace President Ulyssess S. Grant on the $50 bill with Reagan’s likeness. Ronald... ...continue reading

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