An Economic History of Women on U.S. Currency

By The Second City | Jun 23, 2016

It's an exciting time for women in money!

A few years ago, a female face on paper currency was just the stuff of Internet petitions we signed without reading. Now, we could have lovely ladies on not one, but two bills! Nevertheless, this win for women's wallets everywhere hasn't come quietly. There hasn't been this much controversy over a lady's face on a Bill since the Clinton administration! This raises an important question: have we come too far? Are there too many women on money now? Before we can answer that, it's important to consider just how far we've come in the fight for monetary equality.

1865: Pocahontas is the first woman to grace American money, appearing on the $20 bill in an outdoor scene where she is surrounded by men. This ensures the bill's compliance with local laws prohibiting women from being seen in public unaccompanied by their husband or father.

1886: Martha Washington is the first woman to receive top billing on American currency, bringing beauty and elegance to the $1 silver certificate. Despite its runaway victory in Money magazine's "Sexiest Bill in Circulation" issue, the bill was discontinued by the end of the century in order to make room for the women's suffrage movement. One at a time, ladies!

1979:  After a sufficient amount of time had passed since the last victory for women's rights, men allowed Susan B. Anthony to become the face of the dollar coin. Women everywhere rightfully deemed the coin a worthy consolation prize for that whole "failure of the Equal Rights Amendment" thing earlier in the year.

2000: Sacagawea replaces Anthony as our token money lady. The collective inconvenience suffered by Americans who start receiving their change in these useless dollar coins nearly makes up for the hundreds of years of Native American oppression.

2003: After four years, the State Quarter series honors its first woman by putting Helen Keller on the Alabama quarter. The few change-carrying Americans who notice her presence on the coin are inspired by the undying perseverance of a gimmick everybody had long forgotten about.

2015: The U.S. Treasury promises to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman by 2020. When asked for suggestions, women listed Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and Betsy Ross among their potential honorees; men's lists of 10s included Carmen Elektra, Gisele, and "that girl from the Game of War commercial."

2016: Uh-oh, not so fast! Reversing their previous announcement, the Treasury relegates the women to the back of the $10 bill while allowing the man to stay on top, just as God intended.

2016 (What? Two in one year? Feminist win!): The decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 is met with opposition from Republican Rep. Steve King, who introduced an amendment in Congress  to keep things #TeamJackson on account of any change being "racist" and "sexist." (The House didn't allow it go to vote, which was the only rational thing it accomplished this week.)

Maybe women on money have come too far too fast, but one thing's for sure: we've broken the glass ceiling and bought it, too! Face it, men--whether it's spare change for a soda (diet, please) or an extra $20 for the bra that both lifts AND separates, women can be anything these days! So ladies, the next time you pull out a crisp $10 bill, take a deep breath, remember where we came from, and revel in the fact that there's not a single thing that separates a man's money from a woman's.

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Melanie Angel (@weakenedupdate) is a writer in Austin, TX. She has studied satire and late night television writing at The Second City Training Center.

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