Paper Money

New York Times explores woman's portrait on note

Few women have been depicted on paper money that circulated in the United States, with Swedish opera sensation Jenny Lind among, shown here on a 19th century note from a Connecticut bank. A new Senate resolution supports the current movement to place a woman's portrait on Federal Reserve notes.

Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions and Library of Congress.

Despite the absence of any breaking news about the Treasury Department’s decision to place a woman on the next version of the $10, mass media cannot seem to get enough of it. 

The Jan. 27 Business Day section of the New York Times covered it extensively in a 1,400-word story headlined “A Woman on the $10 Bill, and Everyone Has 2 Cents to Put In” that revealed that the response to the initiative shocked everyone involved, for the size of both the response and the number of unexpected complaints about what was supposed to be noncontroversial. Treasurer Rosie Rios told the Times, “I think it took us all by surprise just how much interest there really was,” and the outpouring caused Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to go past his December deadline without giving an indication about when he will finally decide.

The article pointed out the irony that, among the many tasks that occupy Lew’s time, most recently things like the Puerto Rican debt crisis and the World Economic Forum in Davos, he may be most remembered for how the $10 bill looks. 

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Although some complaints were chauvinistic, such as one antediluvian Twitter comment from a man who would demand two $5 note before ever accepting a $10 note with a woman on it, the most common criticism was of the choice of the $10 note instead of the $20 issue. However, the article says officials were acting naturally and justifiably. Security reasons led the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence committee in 2012 to recommended the $10 note be the next denomination to be redesigned. This committee, led by Rios, included representatives from the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the Secret Service and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. 

A few lesser known facts were pointed out. One is that the administration was eager to make a historic statement about women before President Obama leaves office, and the $10 note became a vehicle for it. 

Officials say they cannot switch bills and are committed to the $10. A proposal from Women On 20s, supported by the National Organization for Women, is offered as a compromise and would “keep Hamilton alongside a woman chosen by Treasury and change the opposite side of the $10 bill, replacing the image of the Treasury building with a vignette of nearly a dozen female historical figures.”

The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, on the other hand, asks “How can a current secretary of Treasury displace or diminish the first secretary of Treasury?”

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