U.S. $20 Bill To Get A Makeover With Harriet Tubman
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
More now on the choice to feature Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. It's been over a century since a woman was among the faces on U.S. currency. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's announcement caps a months-long process that was more contentious than officials expected. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Today's announcement was a long time in coming. It was almost two years ago that President Obama first mentioned a letter he'd received from a girl named Sofia in Cambridge, Mass.
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BARACK OBAMA: A young girl wrote to ask me, why aren't there any women on our currency? And then she gave me, like, a long list.
HORSLEY: Sofia's suggestions included Rosa Parks, Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew invited the public to submit their own ideas last summer, and he was quickly overwhelmed.
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JACK LEW: What's been clear throughout this process is that Americans care deeply about both the look and feel the currency and the history and story that each note tells.
HORSLEY: Handwritten notes and emails poured into the Treasury Department. And social media lit up with strong ideas, not only about which woman should go on the bill, but which man should come off. And that's where the trouble began because the next bill due for a makeover if the $10 note, featuring Alexander Hamilton. He's not only the architect of the U.S. financial system, but now he's the star of a hit Broadway musical.
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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) The $10 founding father without a father got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter by 14.
HORSLEY: The musical's creator personally lobbied the treasury secretary to leave Hamilton where he is, as did many others. And eventually, Lew agreed. The back of the $10 bill will get some new faces, though - Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul and others who led the fight to give women the vote. The $5 bill is also getting a new look. Abraham Lincoln stays on the front, but the back will feature historic events from the Lincoln Memorial. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson will move to the back of the $20 bill, leaving prime space in front for Harriet Tubman.
WILLIAM JARMON: I said, well, that's one bill I'll probably never spend (laughter).
HORSLEY: William Jarmon is a docent at the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, Md. He's elated with the treasury's choice and says it will help to keep Tubman's story alive for generations.
JARMON: Hopefully, for hundreds of years, people will look at that $20 bill and say, well, who is she? What did she do?
HORSLEY: Liz Mower of the National Women's History Museum notes Tubman not only escaped slavery and helped lead more than 300 others to freedom, but says she did so in a characteristically female way.
LIZ MOWER: When we think of the Underground Railroad, there's connections there. So often, women are operating in networks. I think it's neat that we're going to have someone on currency who is bringing people together to help achieve her ends.
HORSLEY: Some of the women who campaigned for the currency change expressed reservations today about timing. That's because the new $20 bill won't go into circulation until sometime after the new 10. Secretary Lew says he's ordered the Bureau of Engraving to work as quickly as possible on all three bills, while still taking pains to prevent counterfeiting. Lew says he hopes at least the design for the new $5 and $20 bills will be ready when the 10 is in 2020. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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