Forgive me, Dear Readers, for this is certainly Old News to all of you, but I am only now hearing of the Campaign To Put A Woman On The Twenty-Dollar Bill. (I know; nothing gets past me for long.) Certainly this is something we need to talk about, and I haven't even sorted my own feelings about this yet. It's all terribly Grace Bedell-esque, isn't it?
In case anyone else has been similarly Out Of It, a little girl wrote to President Obama last year after doing a report on Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan woman who audaciously believed that God could speak to individuals, not just ministers, and who was termed a Jezebel by the local clergy for holding prayer services in her home. When this nine-year old student, Sofia, was watching other students give their reports, some of the others used paper money or coins as illustrations of their historical (male) figures. Sofia could not; neither could any of the other students who chose women. (Apparently no one chose Susan B. Anthony or Sacajawea.) She decided to write to the President and see if he could do something about this.
President Obama wrote back, albeit rather belatedly, and the Interwebs are now all aflutter with a campaign. Replacing President Andrew Jackson was the easy choice because of his tarnished reputation with Native Americans. ( The fact that he adopted two American Indian sons is not enough of a neutralizing factor.) I'd rather we replace Benjamin Franklin because of his reputation as a known plagiarist and terrific bore, but no one asked me. (His reputation as a Big Deal among the French, especially their women, still amazes me, but then the French are quite fond of Jerry Lewis, too, so I have to say that they have historically Bad Taste In Men. Only their cuisine and wine save them. But I digress.)
The Interwebs got up a bigass poll as to which Historically Notable woman we want passed around by consumers in exchange for goods and services instead of President Andrew Jackson, and therein lies my Big Issue.
Obviously, I'm overthinking this. But the Principle Symbolism of passing around Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, or Chief Wilma Mankiller in exchange for stuff is ... icky to me. I feel as if it defeats the Purpose of the thing. These women didn't traffic in a currency as low and mean as money. They stood for principles much more meaningful, much more important. They worked for Freedom, Equality, Rights, Dignity. I hate the idea of putting any of them on money.
Yes, I'm aware that my own Personal and Revered Hero, President Abraham Lincoln, is on two kinds of currency, coin and paper money, and for the most part, I've never given that much thought. But I do cringe at the commercials that use his likeness to trump sales for insurance in an undignified way, and caricatures or other likenesses on Presidents' Day. I hate it. It's sad when historical figures have no control over their names or likenesses (Don't get me started on the TV show "Salem." They should be ashamed and in court.) If I had my way, President Lincoln wouldn't be on money either. No one would be. Put the flag, the eagle, the purple mountains majesty on there. It's more dignified all the way around. (Look what happened in Canada with Spocking Fives.)
It's not that I'm against money. I like it, and I hope to see a lot more of it. But money should not be a monument. (To some people and political parties, it already is.) Money doesn't increase awareness of the people whose image it bears. That's easy enough to prove. Grab ten people off the street and ask them if they know whether Hamilton or Franklin was a president of the United States. (For the record, neither one was.)
Sofia, the letter-writer herself, seems to be unaware that we already have two women on currency. How much awareness of Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea did those coins raise? And while a good argument can be made that the dollar coin is an unfamiliar and rarely used form of American currency, is a twenty-dollar bill really a teaching tool? Ask any nine-year old like Sofia to name who is on the nickel and who is on the quarter and see if she or he knows that they are two different presidents.
President Obama's response to Sofia is lovely and encouraging in just the right way. The response of the Interwebs is, in the words of William Shakespeare (not Benjamin Franklin, although he would steal them outright for his "Almanack"), "full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."
Speaking for myself, I'd rather not have my life commemorated by appearing on currency. Its value goes up and down; it is passed around to hands of varying repute. It is used for things that I may never have foreseen or sanctioned. I would rather, if a person of note, leave my life in the hands of careful and kind teachers and historians.
Sofia can learn more from her report on Anne Hutchinson by following the example of Anne Hutchinson than she can from envying the lazy posters of her classmates. Become a keeper of the flame by teaching about notable women and become a Notable Woman herself. She has a lot of examples already to follow.