Paper Money

Firm commissions bank note designs featuring women

Rosa Parks and Amelia Earhart are depicted on privately commissioned Federal Reserve notes created to illustrate a more diverse series of world paper money.

Original images courtesy of Stenn.

The discussion about women on paper currency may have temporarily receded in the United States, but not worldwide, and especially not in the United Kingdom. There, says Freddy Barnes, a media representative for the international trade finance provider Stenn, the announcements of J.M.W. Turner as the new subject of the £20 Bank of England note, and Alan Turing on the bank’s new £50 note, have reignited the debate about gender representation on bank notes.

The firm did an extensive worldwide survey of the incidence of women on paper currency. It found that: (1) A total of 117 of the 180 legal tender currencies around the world feature people. (2) Eighty-eight percent of them are men. (3) When excluding Queen Elizabeth II, this figure rises to 91 percent. (4) Sixty-nine of the 177 currencies surveyed featured designs that depict only males, including the U.S. dollar, Chinese yuan, and Indian rupee. (5) Only three currencies have a gender balance less than 50 percent male when excluding the queen; those are the Danish krone, Swedish krona, and Australian dollar.

Stenn decided to take matters into its own hands by redesigning bank notes from some of the world’s most important currencies to include women. It chose subjects with the most Wikipedia page views between January 2018 and June 2019. Living women and royalty were excluded.

For the United States it chose Amelia Earhart for the $10 note and Rosa Parks for the $100 note. In 1928, Earhart became the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight. Stenn also called her a feminist icon who was a member of the National Women’s Party and supported the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Sixty-four years after she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person, Rosa Parks remains a legendary symbol of the Civil Rights movement. Her act of defiance was one step toward racial segregation laws being declared unconstitutional. 

Prime Minister Winston Churchill is replaced on the Bank of England £5 note by the folk hero and rebel Boudicca, who led an uprising against the Roman occupation of Britain during the reign of Nero. 

Ada Lovelace, the mother of the Analytical Engine, a machine that is considered one of the earliest computers, replaces Adam Smith, the father of economics on the £20 note. Lovelace was also the only legitimate daughter of the poet Lord Byron. The Bank of England £10 note already shows a woman, novelist Jane Austen.

Anna Pavlova, the prima ballerina of the Imperial Russian Ballet at the turn of the 20th century is on an envisaged Russian 100-ruble note. A Japanese 1,000-yen note portrays Tomoe Gozen, a female samurai considered the first general of Japan, while a 100-yuan note from China shows Ching Shih, an employee at a floating brothel in the early 19th century who married a pirate and upon his death took command of his Cantonese “Red Flag Fleet.” She could not be defeated by the Chinese, Portuguese or British navies for many years.

The refusal of the European Central Bank to place real people on euro currency did not deter Stenn, who replaced the real money’s fictive arches with Joan of Arc on the €5 note and Marlene Dietrich on the €10 note. 

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