The non-profit organization Women on 20s is in the news on Wednesday, as the group has announced the winner of its campaign to put a famous American woman on the $20 bill.
NPR points out that Harriet Tubman appearing on the $20 bill would have a deeper significance on two counts because that is same amount she eventually received as her monthly pension from the government for her work as a nurse, scout, camp cook and spy during the Civil War, and including her status as the widow of a veteran.
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Harriet Tubman winner of contest
Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who courageously led other captives to freedom, barely beat out Eleanor Roosevelt, ending up with 118,328 votes to Roosevelt’s 111,227, based on the press release from Women on 20s. Of note, over 600,000 votes were cast over a 10 week period, including more than 350,000 in the final round that began on April 5th.
Rosa Parks came in third place in the vote, with 64,173 votes, and Wilma Mankiller, the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation, was fourth, with 58,703 votes. Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Clara Barton and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were also included on the official ballot.
Details on the Women on 20s campaign
Now that the contest is over, Women on 20s sent a petition to President Obama requesting him “to order the Secretary of the Treasury to change the current portrait portrayed on our American $20 bank note to reflect the remarkable accomplishments of an exemplary American woman who has helped shape our Nation’s great history.”
The images of historical figures on U.S. currency are a matter of tradition, but legally they are chosen by the secretary of the Treasury Department. However, the Treasury Department’s website notes the department’s records “do not reveal the reason that portraits of these particular statesmen were chosen in preference to those of other persons of equal importance and prominence.”
The Treasury website also highlights that “By law, only the portrait of a deceased individual may appear on U.S. currency and securities.”
Statement from Women on 20s
The non-profit group released a statement about its successful campaign on Wednesday. “President Obama already has publicly expressed an interest in featuring more women on our money. With at least 100,000 votes, we can get the President’s ear. That’s how many names it takes to petition the White House for executive action. We went way beyond that with well over a half a million votes backed by names and email addresses.”
The organization also points out that because Harriet Tubman, Roosevelt and Parks all attracted more than 100,000 votes at different stages of the voting, a separate petition for each woman will be sent to the president.
More on Harriet Tubman
Tubman return to the center of attention comes two years after the centennial of her death in 1913. Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture’s chief curator, Jacqueline Serwer spoke to NPR about Tubman’s legacy.
Harriet Tubman was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and led a life so active she eventually ended up with a $40,000 Confederate bounty on her head:
Serwer commented: “Well, she was very smart and had a wonderful memory and knew these byways and these secret routes like the back of her hand and so, when she rounded up a group of people whom she was going to lead to freedom, she knew exactly where to go, where to hide, when to wait, how to escape the slave hunters who were looking for her and looking for the folks that she was bringing to freedom. And she was just very clever. She was also very disciplined, so people, you know, who were tired or who wanted to do something different — she was very strong and could be very harsh at the same time that she was a very kind woman.”
She also mentioned the famous threat Harriet Tubman made to any fugitive who might lose their nerve on the path to freedom: “She would kill them. She couldn’t risk all the others for the sake of — you know, of somebody who was going to fall by the wayside.” Serwer noted that Tubman isn’t known to have had to carry out that threat.