Image of ambiguous historical woman with words "The Significance of Putting Women on Currency"

The Significance of Putting Women on U.S. Currency

By Jackie Berkoff, Assistant Project Manager

Representation is important for a number of reasons; most notably, to show you that your possibilities are limitless—to remind you that you, too, can do anything you set your mind to. U.S. history has a tendency to highly represent men, especially those deemed pivotal in the founding of this country. It would be easy for little boys to look around (at statues, building names and, yes, currency) and see themselves in the historical men being honored. However, this has not been the case for girls.

The Impact of Women and Girls’ Representation on Currency

Currency is woven into the fabric of our daily lives. When young boys look down at a dollar or coin before making a purchase, they see themselves physically represented on the currency. They see the faces of men just like them being honored. Does our Department of the Treasury mean to imply that only the contributions of men are worth celebrating? When women and young girls exclusively see men (and only white men) on currency, it delivers a message that men are more valued and respected in this country than women are. Conversely, when women are represented on currency, it serves as an acknowledgement from the highest institutional powers to all individuals who use that money that the contributions of women to our nation are significant.

The debut of more women on currency would have a tremendous impact on young girls. The seemingly simple decision to include women on coins and bills will empower young girls to explore the possibilities their futures hold. And the effect will not be limited to young girls: all people will be able to see in the faces on their money that women are capable of immense achievements, which, though not a controversial idea, is one that historically has not always been accepted. As a developed country striving to live up to the ideals of the ‘American Dream,’ in this respect, we fall woefully short in reminding women that they can follow theirs, too.

The Success of the American Women Quarters Program

Following increased lobbying for women’s representation on U.S. currency, which started during the Obama administration, there has been increased acceptance of the need to enshrine women’s faces on money. The American Women Quarters Program is a four-year program aimed to celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of women. Through 2025, the U.S. Mint aims to issue up to five designs annually. The quarters issued by the program will feature women from various fields, including space, arts, government, humanities, suffrage, abolition and civil rights. Women from racially, ethnically and geographically diverse backgrounds will be honored.

The first few women to appear on quarters via the American Women Quarters Program include Maya Angelou, a celebrated social activist, performer and writer, and Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut and physicist to go to space. Additionally, Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee nation, Nina Otero-Warren, the leader of New Mexico’s suffrage movement, and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood, will also appear on quarters.

Harriet Tubman on the Twenty-Dollar Bill

Historically, there have been almost no women or minorities on U.S. currency. However, the demographics of our country have changed, and it is important to reflect this reality on cash, which is arguably the one tangible thing that everyone in the country interacts with daily. In short, our bills depict an America that doesn't exist anymore.

During the Obama administration, the Treasury Department decided to replace Andrew Jackson’s picture on the twenty-dollar bill with Harriet Tubman. This action represented a pivotal moment in the movement to represent women on U.S. currency. However, the Trump administration delayed the process of printing the Tubman bill, citing counterfeiting concerns (that many experts claim are unfounded). The delay in creating and distributing the Harriet Tubman twenty-dollar bill sends an unmistakable message to women, girls and communities of color; that honoring the tainted legacy of similarly privileged white, male leaders is more important than overcoming clearly surmountable concerns about counterfeiting.

Our nation’s history is rich with women's contributions. Women have been instrumental in shaping the world we live in now, but even when women have achieved incredible things, their accomplishments are still largely overlooked. The faces of our currency should reflect the people who have contributed to America's success. By putting American heroines on U.S currency, we would be creating more public awareness about the accomplishments of women, promoting gender equality and inspiring national change through monetary change.

Related: MKP's Director of Video Production partnered with Women on 20s, an advocacy organization focused on getting women onto U.S. currency, to develop viral videos to support the cause. Watch the videos:

Dear Mr. President
Children Looking for Woman on 20s
Reveal of 4 Candidates

MKP communications inc. is a New York City-based communications company specializing in financial services marketing and merger/change communication.