By Melinda Gordon
I wonder if the portrait of Harriet Tubman on our new $20 bill will end up looking more pleased than those circulating around the internet. Then again, Harriet might not approve of being “photoshopped.”
Whatever her ultimate expression, the fact that a woman is finally given a major fiscal face is a long overdue honor. With all our freedoms in America, why are we so slow to catch up with other countries who have much more colorful people and designs on their currency?
Maybe that’s exactly why. Our “Design by Democratic Committees” can take too long to try and make almost everyone happy. In a monarchy, the choices are obvious. Dictators are rarely ruled by their Design Squad. But did you know that crazy Roman Emperor Caligula honored his mother Vipsania Agrippina by putting her on a gold coin? Other Roman emperors knew that being a good husband meant putting their wife’s face on shiny silver.
Even in America, women have appeared on money for a brief run. The great woman behind our first president, Martha Washington, was on a one-dollar silver certificate until 1957. An idealized Pocahontas graced the $20 bill from 1865-1869. Then there were the Sacajawea gold dollar and the Susan B. Anthony silver dollar. Were all these hoarded away into collections rather than being circulated? Were they too pretty to spend? Well, it’s time they saw the light of day even though they will have to bear wear and tear and oxidization.
As we had to wait for voting rights, women will have to wait yet again to see their representative, Harriet, to debut on paper in 2020. Patience is an over-rated virtue! Despite the ironies of having a woman who smuggled slaves to freedom on principle rather than profit, we are willing to accept this tardy token of esteem.
When the youngest among us grow up with money that reflects ALL races and genders, they should not take for granted the seed of this new money. The best lesson here is that a 9-year-old student, Sofia from Cambridge, Massachusetts, thought it was completely reasonable to complain to top-level management by writing the president a letter. And it worked. The president took her suggestion seriously rather than sending her a form letter and an autographed picture.
For all the tragic violence and divisive politics in America, sometimes there is some good cross generation and cultural communication when ears and minds are open to fresh observations. This gives me hope and makes me happy that in my lifetime, Harriet Tubman will be laughing all the way to the bank!