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Has there ever been a woman pictured on the front of American paper money before?

Sep 30, 2015 02:40PM ● Published by Charles Reichblum

With plans underway to have a woman pictured on the U.S. $10 bill, has there ever been a woman pictured on the front of American paper money before?

It’s a little known fact that in all of our history, there was only one woman whose portrait appeared on U.S. paper money—and that woman was the first first lady, Martha Washington, who was pictured on the $1 bill briefly in the late 1800s. But, alas, Martha was taken off the $1 bill and replaced by— of all people—her husband, George, who remains on the $1 today.

The idea now is to have a woman pictured on the $10 bill beginning in 2020—the year that will mark the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in the United States. Among those being mentioned as possible candidates to appear on the bill are women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony; anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman; women’s social activist Elizabeth Stanton; the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton; and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. No decision has yet been made on who will be chosen.

Being replaced on the current $10 bill would be Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton has been one of only two non-presidents pictured on current circulating U.S. paper money— the other being Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill.

There has been some discussion about putting a woman on the $20 bill instead of the $10, thereby replacing Andrew Jackson. But many supporters of having a woman on a current bill point out that the $10 bill is used more often than the $20, and they’d prefer to have a woman pictured there. 

Incidentally, the U.S. has a law saying that no living person can be pictured on the nation’s money. Why is that? The reason goes back to one man—Salmon Chase. He was the Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War, and word was, he was a very ambitious man who wanted to run for other political offices in the future—maybe even run for president.

While he was secretary of the treasury, Chase put his own picture on the $1 bill. Members of Congress were outraged that Chase would try to gain personal publicity by having his picture out there increasing his visibility to try to further his political ambitions, so they immediately passed a law that no living person shall be pictured on U.S. money. And that law still exists.

Dr. Knowledge is heard on KDKA and the CBS radio network with his “Knowledge in a Nutshell” feature, and is author of the “Knowledge in a Nutshell” book series. His website is knowledgeinanutshell.com.

Education Dr. Knowledge paper money women's portraits
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