Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Candidate for the Face of the $10

The Lady on the Ten: In the year 2020, Alexander Hamilton will step down from his place adorning the $10 bill, to be replaced by a woman. It will mark the first time that a lady has graced the face of one of our paper currency denominations. Of course, women have been used as models in the past for sculptors and artists to create the various images of our most iconic Lady Liberty on our coinage. That trend was fazed out during the middle of the 20th Century as coins bore famous American men starting with Lincoln on the penny in 1909, then Washington (quarter, 1932), Jefferson (nickel, 1938), FDR (dime, 1946) and JFK (half dollar, 1964). Dwight David Eisenhower was the first “real” person to adorn the one dollar coin in 1971, but he was replaced first by Susan B. Anthony and then Sakagewea, before the dollar program began its Presidents series. Accompanying the Presidential dollars were corresponding First ladies on the bullion $5 gold coin. But our paper money remained male, until now. Several candidates for the honor have been put forth, including Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, even Betsy Ross. Others I have not heard mentioned but equally deserving include Jane Addams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rosa Parks, and more. Each, except perhaps Ross, was a mover and a shaker for social change. With that criterion in mind, I suggest another name, very highly thought of up here in Montana: Jeannette Rankin. Jeannette Rankin has many distinguishing characteristics, as a social worker, reformer, and peace activist. But her greatest claim to fame comes from the fact that, in 1916, Rankin became the first female elected to Congress in the history of the United States. Women did not yet have universal suffrage in 1916, but Montana women did. Several states in the West had approved by referendum the right of women to vote. In 1916, Rankin won a hard fought campaign and went to the House of Representatives. The first vote of that newly assembled House turned out to be yay or nay on America’s entry into World War One. Rankin, and 49 others, said no. She did not win in 1918, largely because the mining interests in the State opposed her, and they had more clout. It did not stop Rankin from outspoken activism. In particular, she championed women’s and children’s rights and remained an outspoken pacifist throughout her life. In 1940 she was persuaded to run again, after over twenty years. This time the voters of Montana returned her to the House, just in time for the vote to declare war on Japan. Again, Rankin voted no, saying that she could not in good conscience send another woman’s son to his death. She was the only dissenting vote in 1941. Hard as the other representatives tried to get her to make the declaration unanimous, she stood her ground. She did not run again in 1942. She lived the remainder of her life stubbornly simply, coming out to speak on her chosen issues whenever the time was appropriate. During the Vietnam era, Jeannette Rankin became a symbol for opposition to the war and even marched in peace demonstrations well into her 80’s. Although pacifism is not always seen as a virtue in America, Rankin was so much more than a staunch opponent to war. She was a dynamo, a force in American politics, and the first lady Congressman as well as the only person to vote against entering both WWI and WWII. She demonstrated two key American traits: fierce independence of thought, and the courage to stand up for her convictions no matter the opposition. Honoring her by placing her image on the $10 would honor us all.

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