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Roaring twenties: It’s a good idea to put a woman on the $20 bill, but can America cut through the politics and red tape

Last modified: 4/26/2015 12:12:34 AM
Now I know how my suffragette foremothers felt about not being able to vote. I completely missed the online “Women on 20s” preliminary campaign to decide which important woman in U.S. history should replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

In case you missed it, too, there is a web campaign out there, launched by New York entrepreneur Barbara Ortiz Howard, who believes a woman’s place “is on the money.”

Some other important facts: The reason they want to boot Jackson from the $20 is because, in historical hindsight, he’s viewed as a warmongering racist who was mainly responsible for displacing tens of thousands of Native Americans from their rightful land under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, aka the shameful “Trail of Tears.”

Howard and others – including our own U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen – are fast-tracking this initiative. Shaheen has even introduced legislation that, if passed, would convene a panel of citizens to make a recommendation to the secretary of the Treasury about which woman should replace Jackson.

Meanwhile, in what seems like a parallel strategy – only without the government’s blessing – the website already assembled nominations and then accepted votes in a preliminary presidential replacement survey, all of which I knew nothing about.

Now that those votes have been tabulated, they’ve narrowed the field to four women – Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller.

Those of us who missed what I call the “Occupy the $20” primary election can at least cast a vote for one of the four finalists. There is a disclaimer on the website, which cautions that the final decision will be made, as always in money matters, by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Sounds a lot like the Miss America pageant rules, when you think about it. But I digress.

Instead of getting sucked into the voting process, I’m focused on the philosophical excitement of finally seeing a woman’s face on my $20 bills by the year 2020. And FYI, that year has been targeted because it marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.

So far, it’s all very circular and fitting.

And while I’m not clear on whether the efforts of “Women on 20s” would be included in the official process, it may not matter. More on that in a minute.

The point here is that this all boils down to “disrupters” with lady parts, then and now, shaking up the status quo and leaving their marks on history and bringing women closer to “full political, social and economic equality” by putting their likeness on paper money.

Lest we forget our previous lame attempts at equalizing money matters with the impractical Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollars, which in the end amounted to chump change.

And while we’re taking a step back to see the bigger picture, globally speaking, this isn’t such a big deal.

Queen Elizabeth has been gracing currency for decades. Other women, including Indira Gandhi and Eva Peron, are also the face of money in their respective countries.

And the Central African franc boldly features a generic “local woman.” I actually liked that idea best, and it got me thinking.

Maybe Ellen or Oprah could orchestrate elaborate “Surprise! You’re the new face of the $20 bill” gotcha TV spots. Or those guys from Publishers Clearing House could just show up on doorsteps with balloons and giant $20 bills to announce which lucky lady will grace this month’s $20 bill – and win $5,000 a week in personalized $20s for life.

Or why not create a series of women to be featured on currency, sort of the way collectible postage stamps are issued? But don’t stop there. Like the print-your-own postage stamps now sanctioned by the U.S. Postal Service, why not allow people to print off some “Happy Birthday Grandma” $20s to be circulated as a fun way to commemorate granny’s milestone birthday?

The thing is, no matter which of the four nominees gets the popular vote, there will always be dissenters. If I had to pick one of the four, I’d go with Wilma Mankiller, who would strike the perfect, poetic justice yin to Andrew Jackson’s unfortunate yang.

Mankiller – whose last name brings some irony to the “terminate Jackson” mix – was the first woman elected as chief of the Cherokee nation in modern times. It seems only right that she wins.

But she probably won’t. And neither will the other three finalists.

Why, you ask?

We here in New Hampshire are particularly plugged in to the election cycle and the 2016 primary, which is already percolating close to a boiling point with a good year-and-a-half to go before the next presidential election, right?

One of the big themes emerging is how to get money out of politics. As I consider the current field of nominees for Women on 20s, I see a similar problem – how to get politics out of money.

It will never happen.

While few would argue that all four of the “finalists” are truly worthy and admirable figures, none of them would be described as politically conservative. That will be a problem.

And as we’ve seen time and again, when push comes to shove, some obscure historian will find a way to drag Harriet Tubman’s name through the mud for some personal failing.

Or someone will step forward to suggest that putting Rosa Parks on the $20 would be a politically motivated nod to Planned Parenthood, since she once served on the board.

And even though Eleanor Roosevelt was known for her compassion, there are those who might say she doesn’t set a good example for young women because she “stood by her man” through at least one confirmed affair, with Eleanor’s secretary Lucille Mercier.

But the main reason I see trouble ahead is because of the fine print, which says the final decision is up to the U.S. Treasury Department. It’s fair to say that all the lobbying and legislation in the world won’t be enough to cut through the mire of bureaucratic red tape.

I predict by the time we have a winner, it will happen to coincide with the phasing out of U.S. currency altogether.

(Carol Robidoux is editor and publisher of, an independent news site covering Manchester.)


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