Hallelujah, if an atheist may say so! Yes, women are finally slated to appear on U.S. currency for the first time in U.S. history, as Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced on Wednesday.
I’d say it’s about time, but it appears the wait is not over. Yes, ladies, we’ll have to wait at least four more years just for the female designs to be unveiled, and as long as 2030 for some of the redesigned money to get into circulation! Do the math — that means a wait of 14 more years — or 254 years, if we count the time since Abigail Addams beseeched her husband to “remember the ladies.”
Feminist organizers had, reasonably, asked the Treasury Department to get a woman on U.S. currency by 2020 — the 100-year anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment securing women the vote.
New Zealand has pictured suffragist Kate Sheppard on its money since 1967! Since that nation was the first to have woman suffrage in 1893, its willingness to honor a feminist shouldn’t be surprising. Seeing a feminist on currency means so much to me that I’ve kept the $10 New Zealand bill taped to my desk since I returned from visiting New Zealand in 2008.
Despite the fact that the new currency won’t be ready in time for the 19th Amendment anniversary, there is something special to celebrate: A majority of the women to appear on currency were leading, ardent rebels against religion. Hey women without superstition — we’ve made it big time! Although the only woman to appear on the front of a bill (the redesigned $20) will be Underground Railroad freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, many freethinking feminist freedom fighters will appear on the back of the $10.
As most readers know, Lew announced last year that an image of a woman would supplant the lowly Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. But then the hit Broadway play created so much Hamilton fever Lew didn’t dare remove Hamilton’s image. (By the way, Dan and I saw and admired the musical this spring, but it did not convert us into Hamilton devotees. I agreed with Cokie Roberts’ lackluster assessment of Hamilton in her New York Times op-ed “The Hamilton I’d Put on the $10 bill.”)
So, while Lew will keep Hamilton on the $10, the back will eventually depict a 1913 suffrage march, plus portraits of five leading feminists: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth and Alice Paul. It warmed my heart to see included Stanton, Anthony and Paul — all freethinkers. Without these women freethinkers, we’d have had no suffrage amendment anniversary to celebrate. Stanton was the first woman to call for the vote. She helped organize the famed Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 officially making that call, and wrote the very words of the 19th Amendment text. She instigated the American feminist movement from her fireside, writing “The Woman’s Bible,” and declaring religion women’s greatest enemy. Her faithful “coadjutor” Susan B. Anthony, became the icon of the suffrage movement. Anthony, an agnostic, believed in what she called “the perfect creed of equality.” Alice Paul was a Quaker turned agnostic who fought valiantly for the Equal Rights Amendment — quashed, to this day, by the Religious Right.
Joining them will be renegade women rebels Mott and Truth, who, frankly, might as well have been freethinkers. Mott was a brave Quaker heretic, whose motto of “Truth for authority; not authority for truth,” helped awaken the young Stanton. Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech irreverently ends: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” They make a laudable quintet of feminist rabble-rousers.
Incidentally, Eleanor Roosevelt will join Marian Anderson, the contralto who famously sang at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 when shunned by the Daughters of the Revolution, and Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the memorial in 1963, on the back of the $5 Lincoln bill. Roosevelt was a dissenter from religion, who wrote in her autobiography, “The Bible illustrated by Dore occupied many of my hours — and I think probably gave me many nightmares.”
The untold story of the feminist movement is that it was sparked and nurtured by women without superstition, by the religious nonconformists and liberals, the unorthodox, the heretics, the freethinking skeptics, rationalists, atheists and agnostics. Women of today owe such an enormous debt to the freethinking founders and foremothers of the women’s movement. These women dared question and confront the religious status quo that demanded women’s silence, subjection, servitude and unquestioning obedience. It is thanks to the freethinking women who challenged religious sway over civil laws and practices that women have the rights we possess today.
It’s nice to know that someday, maybe around 2030, some of our U.S. currency will give women without superstition our due.
To learn more about women freethinkers and the many nonreligious founding mothers of the feminist movement, look up Women Without Superstition: No Gods — No Masters, The Collected Writings of Women Freethinkers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor.