Opinion: Let’s tear the paper ceiling and get some women on U.S. currency

Let's correct an oversight: Add some women to U.S. currency.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Open your wallet and, assuming you aren’t exclusively a plastic user, you’ll probably find a range of denominations of U.S. currency stuffed in there. And they all share one embarrassing feature: The faces on the front are all men.

President Obama, speaking in Kansas City on Wednesday, noted that little bit of monetary reality, saying that last week “a young girl wrote to ask me why aren’t there any women on our currency, and then she gave me ... a long list of possible women to put on our dollar bills and quarters and stuff, which I thought was a pretty good idea.”

It is.

Women currently are depicted on three coins still in circulation: Helen Keller on the back of the Alabama quarter and Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony on dollar coins. But only one woman has ever been featured on circulating currency: Martha Washington on the front of $1 Silver Certificates in 1886 and 1891, and on the same denomination in 1896. And I should note that the coins still circulate, but the mint hasn’t been producing any new ones.


The issue has come up before, and in March, Jillian Keenan made a compelling case over at Slate that if any of the bills were to get a makeover, the $20 bill that features Andrew Jackson — racist, architect of a genocidal campaign against Native Americans and opponent of paper currency (irony of ironies) — should be the one to get the heave-ho.

So who is on the bills now?

$1 - George Washington

$2 - Thomas Jefferson


$5 - Abraham Lincoln

$10 - Alexander Hamilton

$20 - Andrew Jackson

$50 - Ulysses S. Grant


$100 - Benjamin Franklin

Looking at that list, I side with Keenan that Jackson should be shelved. Hamilton gets a raised eyebrow too, though he was instrumental in establishing the early financial framework for the government.

My colleague Karin Klein suggests we get rid of the faces altogether to avoid these kinds of debates.

Of course, we could always boot more than one. But what women should replace them? Sacajawea? Harriet Tubman? Should we resurrect Anthony?


What say you, currency holders of America? Who would you erase, and with whom would you replace? Or with what, if you think we should lose the portraits?

Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.