Let’s find space for women on America’s currency

Eleanor Roosevelt is a front-runner to be on the $10 bill.
Eleanor Roosevelt is a front-runner to be on the $10 bill. AP file, 1948

By the end of the year, says U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, he’ll pick a woman to adorn a newly designed $10 bill. Given the abundance of great American women, this will not be an easy choice.

Front-runners in recent polls have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriett Tubman, Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony. Lew should be casting a wide net, though. Other contenders include:

▪ Proto-feminist Abigail Adams, whose powerful intellect swayed her husband, John Adams. Were she alive today, she’d be a national leader in her own right.

▪ Rosa Parks, an icon of the modern civil rights movement. She didn’t get on that bus by accident; she was a strategist in the campaign against desegregation and played the central role in a test case designed to topple segregation in Alabama.

▪ Emily Dickinson, one of the greatest poets in the English language. Britain is putting Jane Austen on its 10-pound note – why shouldn’t America recognize the arts in its own currency?

▪ Clara Barton, pioneer of nursing, suffragist, international relief organizer and founder of the American Red Cross.

▪ Rachel Carson, biologist and author of “Silent Spring,” catalyst of the modern environmentalist movement. America ought to be honoring women in the sciences as well as the arts.

Lew’s biggest dilemma is the scarcity of real estate on America’s greenbacks. U.S. history is not lacking in great men, either. George Washington’s place on the $1 bill is secure, as is Abraham Lincoln’s place on the $5 billion.

In fact, kicking Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill is problematic. Hamilton was a hero of the Revolution, an economic visionary, a champion of American industrialization, the creator of the country’s first national bank and an architect of U.S. fiscal policy.

Lew proposes to keep Hamilton on some $10 bills and put the yet-to-be-named woman on others. It’s a half solution.

It might make more sense to eventually shift Hamilton to the $20 bill, thus displacing Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a ferocious patriot and fervent small-D democrat, but his hostility toward Native American tribes hasn’t worn well over the years.

Jackson’s policies led to the eviction of Cherokees and neighboring tribes from their Southeastern homelands; the resulting Trail of Tears amounted to a death march for many dispossessed Indians. He represents the best and worst of the early United States.

Another possibility – especially if we’re looking to honor more than one woman – is the sadly neglected $2 bill. Although you don’t see many of them, the “deuce” is still in circulation and still being printed.

Inflation argues for the $2 bill. The $1 bill has lost half its purchasing power since 1988, so a note with twice the value would slim down the wads in our wallets and purses. Why not remind the country that the deuce actually exists – and put American heroines on both the $10 and $2 bills?