Abby Ohlheiser, Washington Post, May 12, 2015
A group that wants to kick Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill and replace him with a woman has, after months of collecting votes, chosen a successor: Harriet Tubman.
Tubman, an abolitionist who is remembered most for her role as a conductor in the “Underground Railroad,” was one of four finalists for the nod from a group of campaigners calling themselves “Women on 20s.” The campaign started earlier this year and has since inspired bills in the House and the Senate.
The other three finalists were former first lady and human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt; civil rights figure Rosa Parks; and Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. Now that voters participating in the campaign have chosen Tubman, Women on 20s will bring a petition with the people’s choice to the White House.
“Our paper bills are like pocket monuments to great figures in our history,” Women on 20s Executive Director Susan Ades Stone said in an e-mailed statement. “Our work won’t be done until we’re holding a Harriet $20 bill in our hands in time for the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.”
In all, the group said, it has collected more than 600,000 votes for its campaign.
In Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Tubman was a “wonderful choice” for the bill, but stopped short of saying whether the President backs putting Tubman on the $20.
“Last week, a young girl wrote to me to ask why aren’t there any women on our currency,” President Obama said in a July speech in Kansas City, before the launch of the Women on 20s voting campaign. “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.”
Although the Women on 20s campaign plans to petition the White House, it is the Treasury Department that ultimately makes decisions on which bills feature which portraits. The last overhaul of paper money portraits by the department was in the 1920’s, when Jackson replaced Grover Cleveland on the $20.
The Women on 20s campaign aimed to change the portrait on the $20 bill for a couple of reasons: First, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote is in 2020. And second, while Jackson may have been a relatively uncontroversial choice for the honor when he was selected in 1929, he was an enthusiastic supporter of policies that were harmful to the Native American population, including the measure that led to the Trail of Tears.
For that latter reason, Women on 20s is not the first to suggest that it might be time to retire the Jackson $20 bill.