So few of them, each a distinct individual but united as a sisterhood — the sisterhood of women whose portraits have been depicted on paper money issued in the United States. Sometime in the 2020s, the sisterhood will gain a new member when an as-yet-announced woman is named as the star of the next version of the $10 Federal Reserve note.
You’ll recognize some of these names; others will be unfamiliar.
Three of them have been depicted on notes issued by the federal government. One appears on two notes issued by a rebellious government. The rest appear on notes issued by private banks when those private issues were still legal.
Anne Izard Deas
Anne Izard was born to Ralph Izard, a U.S. senator, and Alice Izard, in 1779. At the age of 14 or 15 in 1794, she posed for the most famous portraitist in the United States, Gilbert Stuart.
Her life nearly eclipsed the “four score and twenty years” of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” from her birth during the Revolutionary War to her death on Jan. 17, 1862, in the first full year of the Civil War.
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Stuart’s portrait of the young woman depicts her as “a standing figure showing below the waist, turned half-way to the right, with her dark brown eyes directed to the spectator,” according to a description published in a listing of the works of Stuart, which continues, “The luxuriant brown hair is parted, with curls on the forehead, and hangs down her back held together at the nape of the neck; she wears earrings.”
In 1844, Anne Izard Deas published Correspondence of Mr. Ralph Izard, of South Carolina, From the Year 1774 to 1804; With a Short Memoir, at the urging of her mother.
Anne Izard’s portrait is depicted on the $5 Series 591 military payment certificate. These federal issues were used to pay U.S. military personnel stationed in foreign lands from just after World War II until after the Vietnam War. The notes were intended to prevent a black market in regular notes.
Jenny Lind is one of the few women portrayed on American paper money who achieved celebrity not through marriage or birth to a prominent family, but through her own accomplishments.
Lind was an accomplished soprano opera singer from Sweden, promoted in the United States as the “Swedish Nightingale.”
She was born in October 1820 and began training in music at the age of 9 and performing on stage at 10 years old. While still in her teens, she became famous after performing in the role of Agathe in Der Freischütz in Sweden in 1838. While in her 20s, she became in great demand for roles.
Her fame spread to the United States when, in 1850, she was persuaded to tour America at the invitation of P.T. Barnum. After performing at more than 90 concerts for the famed showman, Lind fell out with Barnum but continued to tour on her own before returning to Sweden in 1852.
Various souvenirs appeared during her tour, including tokens with her likeness.
As a prominent figure, she was the subject of various artists. She is depicted on two obsolete notes — a $1 note of Hartford Bank, Connecticut, and a $1 note of the Stock Security Bank, Danville, Ill. Such notes were typical of what was in circulation prior to the introduction of federal notes.
It can be argued that Dolley Madison became the model for every first lady to follow her.
She was born into a Quaker family but she was expelled from the church for marrying outside her faith when she married James Madison. She had a son from her first marriage, to John Todd, who died in Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic of 1793.
In many ways, she was the first first lady, serving as the social leader of official Washington. She unofficially sometimes served as hostess for the widowed Thomas Jefferson when he was president, and, as the wife of the nation’s fourth president, James Madison, she used her considerable social gifts to entertain others in the nation’s capital, especially since her husband was not the most socially adept of individuals.
In some respects, she and her second husband, the president, were polar opposites. James Madison was soft-spoken and shy, generally reserved with strangers, and had few skills with small talk (he would not survive modern presidential campaigns). Dolley Madison was buxom and vivacious, 17 years younger than the president, and possessed of all the social skills that future first ladies would need as the role of that office became defined (and she set the baseline).
After the president’s death, she fell into hard times and lived in poverty for a time, though she was still popular in social circles. She died in 1849.
Dolley Madison became one of two presidential spouses to be depicted on paper currency, in her case on an April 2, 1855, $10 obsolete note of the Pawtuckaway Bank, Epping, N.H. The bank was founded in 1854 when it received a state charter. The American Bank Note Co. printed the notes.
Martha Washington is the other first lady to be depicted on paper currency and the only woman to be depicted in portrait form on federal legal tender paper money.
Like Dolley Madison, Martha Custis was a widow when she married a future president. She had two surviving children at the time of her second marriage, and was, thanks to her first husband’s estate, the wealthiest marriageable woman in Virginia when she wed George Washington in 1759. The estate of Daniel Parke Custis included five plantations, which she reportedly ran capably after her first husband’s death. As permitted by the laws of the times, George Washington used the money left to Martha Washington to increase his own holdings — to purchase more land and slaves for his estate, though his wife owned more slaves than he did.
During the Revolutionary War, Martha Washington would travel thousands of miles to be with her husband in his role as commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Army. She served as his hostess during her stays with him, holding social events for Gen. Washington’s officers and their wives and performing other duties. Later, as first lady, she continued to serve as her husband’s hostess.
Martha Washington is depicted on three different notes: a $5 obsolete note of Belknap County Bank, New Hampshire; and on $1 1886 and 1896 silver certificates, in conjunction with a portrait of George Washington on the 1896 silver certificate and in a solo portrait on the earlier silver certificate. The Series 1896 silver certificate was issued into the 1920s and was the last federal note depicting a woman to be in circulation in the United States.
Pocahontas was one of the many children of Powhatan, who was principal chief of the Tsenacommacah, an Algonquian-speaking alliance in what would become Virginia. By the tradition of the alliance, the principal chief took many wives, each of whom was to bear him one child before being sent back to her village to find a new husband.
Pocahontas, who was also named Matoax, was born around 1596. Some months after Englishman John Smith reached the region in April 1607 with other settlers to found Jamestown, he was captured by the Algonquians. While legend claims that a young Pocahontas prevented his execution, that story may be nothing more than fiction (indeed, Smith’s initial writings indicate he first met her a few months after he was captured and his life was spared, though he later rewrote his accounts and claimed that the girl had helped save him). Modern tales of a romance between the two are apocryphal, given that she was aged 10 or 11 when they first met, and such tales did not arise until the 19th century.
It is believed that Pocahontas befriended the Jamestown settlers and helped serve as a bridge between the two uneasy cultures, but her visits ended after an injured Smith left for England (she was apparently told he had drowned).
Relations between the native inhabitants and the English interlopers had always been strained and erupted into war in 1610. Pocahontas was captured in 1613, to be held for ransom by the English. When Powhatan’s efforts at gaining her release failed, she was held prisoner for a year. It was during this time that she was converted to Christianity and took an English name, Rebecca. In April 1614, she married an Englishman, John Rolfe. Their marriage helped bring about an eight-year truce in the war, though armed conflict would re-erupt twice more, years later.
In 1616, the Rolfes went to England and Rebecca Rolfe was paraded before various parties as evidence of the success of one of the goals of the English settlers in America — to convert the native inhabitants to Christianity. One can imagine her unease at being placed on public display as a representative of a vastly different culture than her audiences.