The U.S. Constitution’s 19th amendment will turn 100 years old in 2020. And while there will certainly be events and celebrations, Yonkers-based entrepreneur Barbara Ortiz Howard wants to mark the occasion with some cold, hard cash—newly imprinted with the portrait of a notable woman.
On March 1, Howard and her friend, journalist Susan Ades Stone, launched the initial online voting round for Women on 20s, an advocacy campaign created to replace the image of Andrew Jackson with a woman on the U.S. $20 bill. (In an unrelated action, a Change.org petition to get women back on Canadian bank notes has garnered 54,000 online signatures after the only women to be featured on Canada’s bank notes were removed.)
They targeted the $20, which currently features Andrew Jackson for two main reasons: As the seventh U.S. President, Jackson helped pass the “Indian Removal Act of 1830,” which drove Native American tribes out of their homeland in the southeastern United States to Oklahoma, an event known as the “Trail of Tears,” during which thousands died of disease, starvation, and exposure. In addition, Howard says history indicates that Jackson was opposed to the central banking system and paper money, preferring gold and silver coin. Featuring him on a paper bill is ironic, she says.
Howard’s thoughts about the faces we see on our currency began in 2012. She had always sought out strong women as role models to show her daughter, who is now 26. It bothered her that, despite the rich history many women have contributed in the U.S., there are no women on the bills we use every day.
Of course, suffragette Susan B. Anthony was featured on a silver dollar coin first circulated in 1979. However, fewer than 800 million were produced. Their similarity to quarters in size and shape made them unpopular with the public. In 2000, the U.S. Mint replaced the Susan. B. Anthony dollar with the Golden Dollar, featuring Native American guide Sacagawea. Howard’s research revealed that Helen Keller is on one side of the Alabama quarter and Martha Washington’s portrait appeared on the face of an oversize $1 silver certificate in 1886 and 1891. She and George Washington were on the reverse side of the 1996 note. But all other U.S. currency — and all of the paper bills most frequently used– have featured men.
After a couple of years of developing the idea and assembling a list of possible candidates, Howard saw a window of opportunity in July 2014 when President Barack Obama suggested in a speech that it would be a “pretty good idea” to put a woman on U.S. currency. And it’s within his power. The president just needs to direct the Treasury secretary to make the change. It takes 100,000 votes to petition the White House for executive action, so the Women on 20s campaign goal is to capture at least that many votes.
And it’s on its way to achieving that goal. In the first week, more than 35,000 votes were cast for 15 iconic women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Margaret Sanger, and Clara Barton. Howard says this “primary,” where voters are asked to choose up to three “candidates,” will remain open until the end of March. She anticipates that the final voting will take place in April to select the woman that will be presented to the president and the secretary of the Treasury with a request that she replace Jackson on the $20. Howard thinks that having a woman on the very currency we use every day will send a powerful message about women and economic power.
“There is a disconnect possibly between women and money,” she says. “Having a woman on money helps connect the dots a little bit more in our everyday lives.”