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Editorial: Put a Woman on the $20 Bill

Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Here’s your Jeopardy clue of the day: This all-American boys club has remained unchanged since 1929, with no admittance to women. If you’re stumped, check your wallet or purse for government-issued hints.

Well done if you replied, “Who are the men on U.S. paper currency?’’ From Washington — first in war, first in peace, and still first on the dollar bill — to Woodrow Wilson, whose bespectacled visage once adorned the $100,000 bill, traded only between Federal Reserve Banks, men have long ruled America’s paper currency.

A group named Women on 20s is out to change that, with a bid to replace Andrew Jackson with a woman on the $20 bill. We’re all for it, since women are half the population and a bit more, and have not been given their due by the American economy — or the currency.

The $20 bill is a reasonable target. Putting a woman on the $1 bill would invite irony, given that it was long calculated that women were paid 75 cents on the dollar for what men made doing the same work. Would a “lady dollar’’ be similarly undervalued?

The four finalists, chosen after experts weighed in and the list was cut down from 100, are first lady and social activist Eleanor Roosevelt; abolitionist Harriet Tubman; civil rights hero Rosa Parks; and Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected chief of a Native American tribe. Online voting will produce one candidate.

The Women on 20s organization is aiming its campaign at the White House, but eventually it will have to persuade the Secretary of the Treasury. According to the U.S. Mint, he or she is the one who makes the call about the coin of the realm. Congress made it so in 1862.

Jackson, by the way, isn’t necessarily our least favorite paper president. William McKinley and Grover Cleveland are less historically significant, but their bills, $500 and $1,000, aren’t circulated anymore. Jackson’s place on paper money is incongruous, since he warred against the national bank and once told a delegation of bankers, “You are a den of vipers and thieves.” That would endear him to many Americans now, but the Indian Removal Act, passed during his presidency with his support, was not a proud moment in American history. Surely Wilma Mankiller’s nomination tweaks his legacy.

We don’t have a clear favorite among the distinguished women, but hope it would be someone who can inspire girls to achieve as much as boys, and demand compensation reflecting that. Just last week a Washington Post story about a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a pair of academics reported that even women corporate executives fare less well than their counterparts. Merit didn’t trump disparity: Women received smaller rewards when their companies did well, and, to add insult to injury, they were punished more, wealth-wise, when their companies did poorly.

To any Republicans inclined to defend the boys club, we suggest it might be better to rip the paper ceiling now. Otherwise, they are risking what would be for them a nightmare: The first woman’s face they see on a bill could be that of ex-president Hillary Clinton.

Valley News

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