Having women on our currency is not unusual. They just weren’t real women. Idealized as Greek goddesses, milkmaids or wearing American Indian attire, one scholar said they were “figments of the male imagination.”
Where are we going? To what a currency image says.
Currency Images of Women
A woman with “flowing hair” is on the first coin from the U.S. mint. Supposedly an image of what liberty is supposed to look like, here she is (below) as the “flowing hair cent.” The penny (left) was delivered in 1793 and the dime, just before. Her hair was considered rather wild.
Martha Washington was the only real woman to make it to paper currency. As her husband’s facilitator, as a sidekick, as an indirect political participant, she has been described as the prototype of the 19th century power woman.
This is Martha on an 1891 silver certificate:
More typically though, the female image was somewhat ethereal. Below we have Hebe, goddess of youth (with George Washington).
Our Bottom Line: The $20 Bill
The female image that replaces either Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill or AndrewJackson on the $20 bill (hopefully Jackson goes) represents an attitude about the role of women. I actually prefer Norway’s stunning approach with wonderful depictions that relate to the sea.
But, if we stick with a female image, perhaps we can learn something from Australia. A woman and a man are on every one of their bank notes except for the five dollar note which has the Queen and Parliament.
On the other hand, maybe we should just copy this currency proposal from a Melbourne artist. The image is Dame Edna (aka Australian comedian Barry Humphrey).