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Two Cents on America's Redesigned Currency

Two Cents on America's Redesigned Currency

Last week, some big news came out of the United States Department of the Treasury.  Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that there will be a redesign of the twenty, ten and five dollar notes to feature women who have played prominent roles in American history. The front of the new twenty dollar bill will feature the portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and will move the image of former president Andrew Jackson to the back. The new ten dollar bill will still feature Alexander Hamilton on the front, but the back will now celebrate women’s suffrage with portraits of Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. The new five dollar bill will retain President Lincoln, but the back will now honor historic events that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt. 

This announcement is a follow through on Lew’s June 2015 promise that a newly redesigned ten dollar bill would feature a woman. After this announcement, the Treasury Department received over one million responses about should be featured on the ten dollar bill, and as a result of such powerful feedback, the department launched a new webpage: www.modernmoney.treasury.gov.

The final redesigns will be unveiled in 2020, which is the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which established a woman’s right to vote. The bills will go into circulation later in the decade, starting with the new ten dollar bill. The newly redesigned money will make the United States the 49th country to put a woman on paper currency. Still, only nine percent of the world’s paper currency features women.

But, does this symbolic step concretely advance women’s equality? Some question the long-term significance of paper money, and claim that it will be phased out and replaced by cards, chips and smart phones in just a short period of time. Others argue that putting five women on the back of a single bill suggests that five women are the equivalent of one man on the front of the bill. Further, some people feel the new currency only masks our nation’s problems of economic injustice for women and people of color such as the gender wage gap. Despite these concerns, the announcement has been widely celebrated by advocacy groups and individuals alike, noting this step in the right direction.

Reform Judaism has a long history of advocating to address gender inequality in our society. We are proud that our Movement has many decades of statements and policy resolutions regarding women’s equality. Full equality for women goes beyond the gender equity in the rabbinate and in Jewish life into secular life and the workforce. Long overdue, the Department of Treasury’s plan to feature leading women on America’s paper currency is an important and historic step towards the equality of participation and representation we’ve been advocating for. While this might be hard to quantify, it is important for all people, but especially young women to see women achieving and being recognized for their achievements, to know that they too can set goals beyond what may be expected of them.

For more information about women’s rights, visit our issue page or Women of Reform Judaism. To learn more about the women who will soon be featured on U.S. paper currency, read this article from the New York Times.

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf

Published: 4/28/2016