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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Money Isn't Everything, And We're Worth Way More Than Twenty Bucks


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.)

Anyway.

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.

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9 comments:

  1. I don't know Nance, I might need to be given a couple of (hundred) samples of the currency in question to make a decision about whether we should put on a woman on there :)

    I have a friend who despises Ben Franklin - I should introduce you to her (she's a UC doctoral candidate who teaches European history). I have nothing but warm fuzzy feelings about him because I choose to only remember him from the movie "1776" where he was an adorable lecherous old man. Wait, that doesn't sound very good...

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    1. Bug--I have to say, I'm struggling to formulate a response to your comment here...! ummmm...

      There is probably not a single film that could give me a positive feeling about Benjamin Franklin. His autobiography--excerpts of which were required reading when I was a junior in high school--was titanically boring and self-aggrandizing and preachy. He talks at length about being a self-made man, and then goes on (obliviously) about the many people who helped him along the way. His "Poor Richard's Almanack" is, in part, a collection of reworked sayings that he cribbed from Shakespeare and others, including the Bible.

      These are all things that your friend probably holds against him too.

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  2. I hadn't thought of it that way, actually. The thought of my hero, Harriet Tubman, being commercialized to the extreme is horrid indeed. Still, I hate that all of the pictures on paper money are men. I suspect you are right, the best solution is no people on money whatsoever.

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  3. J@jj.com--If I were voting, Harriet Tubman would have my vote, too. She is one of my Personal Heroes, and like you, the idea of passing her around for a concert teeshirt, a bag of hamburgers, or some mascara and blush from Walgreens does nothing more than lose her magnificent achievements in translation.

    I find that I don't care so much that all of our currency bears the images of men. It's old and traditional, and like the Declaration of Independence, its originators were men. Let them have it. When the new currency came out, the dollar coin, it had women on it. The country just wasn't ready.

    We've moved forward--albeit slowly--and women have taken their places in much more important roles than on a piece of paper. I'd rather have women in the Supreme Court and Cabinet (and hopefully, soon enough in the White House) than on money. When is the last time you even looked at a piece of currency or thought about the person on it? I'd hate to have that happen to any woman in history.

    Worse, what if, like Canadian money, a Tubman twenty got a terrible nickname? Ask Ted about Loonies and Toonies.

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  4. You have a good point about NOT putting anyone's image on any currency or coin. I agree with you now that I think about it. Just stick some mountains or rivers on the stuff and be done with it.

    And as for Notable Women I'm all about Anne Hutchinson. Beyond admiring her for all that she did, my grandmother was named for her! So I feel a connection to her, however tenuous it might be.

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    1. How interesting! Was she named out as a religious, historical, or ancestral tribute? The Puritans have lots of tentacles; their lineage goes quite far. Reader J@jellyjules is a descendant of one of the accused Salem "witches."

      Maybe the state quarters are a good idea that needs to be carried further. Make the backs of them the fronts. The molds already exist, so it's not like there is any extra expense.

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    2. [Ok will try posting a reply again. The system ate my first one.]

      To my knowledge we are not related to Anne Hutchinson, but whether or not my grandmother was named because of religious or historical interest in the woman I cannot say. Details like that are lost in time.

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  5. Um... yeah. No (more) women's faces on money. Or men's faces, either. And if we're going to have Symbolic Things, let's get rid of the hideous Eye of Providence on the back of bills. And "in God we trust." Not sure what I would like to see there... maybe national monuments. Or whatever. This really makes the point that no one really looks or even cares what is on money, lol.

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    1. I'm with you; that odd, Big Brother Pyramid is creepy. Isn't there a bunch of conspiracy theory about the stuff on US currency regarding the Illuminati and all sorts of weird symbolism as it is? Let's just put some straightforward pictures on there of a few basic things.

      On a recent trip to Canada (Home Of The Pretty Pastel Money), I was surprised by the strips of clear plastic in their currency. They really do have quite lovely money. I'm especially fond of their Toonie.

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