127 professional American historians have signed an open letter to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin urging that he commit to plans previously announced to replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of the 20-dollar bill with Harriet Tubman, escaped slave turned abolitionist and Civil War military scout. The redesign was to be unveiled by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the vote for women.
In 2016, then Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced the decision after activists Barbara Ortiz Johnson and Susan Ades Stone launched a petition that garnered over 600,000 votes in an online poll to elect an eminent woman. Tubman was chosen over 100 other heroines, including Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Lew wrote: “I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy.”
Since President Donald Trump has taken office, plans have stalled. Secretary Mnuchin has been asked repeatedly to confirm the change to the $20 bill and has deflected. Politicians have added their voice to the chorus in favor of Tubman, including Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) who states in her letter to Mnuchin, “Women have been a critical part of our nation’s history and values, and the lack of a woman on our American currency is glaring oversight.”
Organized by two leading female historians, Professor Elizabeth Cobbs (Texas A&M) and Professor Catherine Clinton (University of Texas at San Antonio), the purpose of this letter is to show the support of professional historians. “It’s long past due that the contributions of American women to this country be recognized on our great nation’s currency,” says Professor Cobbs. Professor Clinton asserts, “We felt it was important for Secretary Mnuchin to know that backing is broad among scholars, not just activists.”
Six Pulitzer Prize winners have signed the letter, which includes such names such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ken Burns, Cokie Roberts, and Walter Isaacson. Many are historians who have chronicled women’s suffrage, slavery, and the Civil War. The group hopes the Treasury Department will recommit to its plan to place Harriet Tubman on the $20 in time for the upcoming August 26 anniversary of women’s suffrage. www.historiansfortubmanonthe20.org.
Elizabeth Cobbs, Ph.D. and Catherine Clinton, Ph.D.