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When Women Arrive On US Currency


This week saw some of the best economic news out of Britain that we’ve heard about that country in a long time. The BBC reports that Jane Austen will be the new face on the UK’s ten pound note. The decision to put Austen on the note came after protests over the under-representation of women on UK currency. More:

“Jane Austen certainly merits a place in the select group of historical figures to appear on our banknotes. Her novels have an enduring and universal appeal and she is recognised as one of the greatest writers in English literature,” Mr Carney said

We couldn’t agree more. But some other sites happy about the news had bizarre ways of expressing their enthusiasm. Think Progress, for example, released a list of five women who the site thought should go on American money: Frances Perkins, Jeannette Rankin, Shirley Chisholm, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Edith Wharton.

The most charitable thing you can say about most of the names on this list is that it represents the soft bigotry of low expectations applied to women. There are many women better suited for national honor than some of the names Think Progress came up with on what we hope was an off day at the left-leaning think tank. Edith Wharton was a wonderful novelist but a vicious anti-Semite, shocking even by the standards of her time. Jeannette Rankin, who ThinkProgress cluelessly hails as a ‘peace activist’, was a screwball who didn’t only vote against US entry into WW1, she also voted, alone, against entry into WW2 after Pearl Harbor. Our guess: she’ll get her face on America’s money on the day they build a Tojo monument on the Washington Mall.

If it’s going to be a novelist, what about the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe? Elizabeth Seaton, Clara Barton, Jane Addams and Eleanor Roosevelt would be better than just about anybody on this list. We wonder what was wrong with Sojourner Truth that she didn’t make the cut.

Nevertheless, in calling for more women on currency, Think Progress has a definite point. The reality is that America’s currency system until recently was conservative, in the sense that the appearance of our money didn’t change very often. Under a system in which the images on our currency stayed relatively constant, it was hard to make a case for anybody but presidents (and Hamilton).

But inflation and anti-counterfeit strategies now mean that our money needs to change more. Because of this, we may want to start giving more people a chance to have their mug shots on our money. If that happens, women should definitely get more time—as long as we don’t repeat what happened in Brazil. There, during the repeated bouts of hyperinflation, they had used so many portraits of so many people on the endlessly depreciating currency that the families of famous people started to protest when their relatives were chosen for the dubious honor of having their likeness on a soon-to-be-worthless banknote.

[Image of Jane Austen Currency courtesy Getty Images.]

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  • USNK2

    Mr. Mead: 2013 was the official 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.
    Perhaps the decision to put Austen’s image on the tenner was due to “under-representation of women on UK currency”.
    However, timing is everything. The UK has had three economic-mini-booms in three years: the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Jubilee, and now the Royal Baby. Hard to see how the Royal Family can produce another boost in 2014, but it will definitely be Jane Austen’s turn.
    It is a truth generally acknowledged that no other novel that has had more influence than “Pride and Prejudice”, with more film adaptations (10) than any other novel, ever, not including “Bridget Jone’s Diary” and Bollywood’s “Bride and Prejudice”.
    If the USA wants our greatest female novelist to be so honored, it should be Willa Cather (who did get a USPS stamp in 1973), although I would be happy if Willa Cather was taught in American schools, especially “My Antonia”.

    • Corlyss

      “It is a truth generally acknowledged that no other novel that has had more influence than “Pride and Prejudice”,”

      I’d love to see how the source of that truth arrives at that conclusion. It has to be based on more than the number of film adaptations. Who but women read Austen or see the movies?

      “If the USA wants our greatest female novelist to be so honored”

      God spare us! That’s all the rampaging feminists need, another cause to get all exercised about.

      When we do eventually go down that frivolous path, I bet the first female novelist will be Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her book started the civil war.

  • Corlyss

    “The decision to put Austen on the note came after protests over the under-representation of women on UK currency.”

    Since those spots are usually reserved for those who left a large imprint on the political life of a nation, dare I suggest that there are only two women who deserve that honor, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victory. Job titles ARE important IMO. Cloistered novelist of manners and style just doesn’t have much weight against matters of state. The Austen selection just more PC crap to appease the tireless victimologists.

  • Bart Hall

    Elizabeth Van Lew. A wealthy Richmondite feminist and abolitionist, her assistance to Union POWs early in the Civil War led her to engage in increasingly intense espionage. By late 1864 plans, maps and topics discussed in the Confederate White House were in Grant’s hands within 48 hours, leading Grant to proclaim her his most useful source of information.

  • wigwag

    I nominate Dororthy Day.

  • USNK2

    Mr. Mead forgot to note that Benjamin Franklin’s portrait is on the US $100 bill.
    I am surprised there is not a ‘civil rights’ movement to get Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill…

    • Corlyss

      Don’t give’m any ideas, U.

  • JC

    Why isn’t Louisa May Alcott on the list?


  • eoros

    Just for the record, it is Elizabeth Seton, not Seaton

  • D B

    I’m not sure they thought this through. Consider this:

    “Other features include:

    A quote from Pride and Prejudice – “I declare after all there is no
    enjoyment like reading!””

    My wife instantly pointed out that this was said by the snotty Miss Bingley, one of Jane Austin’s most prominent villians, who said it because she was bored with reading and was merely trying to impress Darcy with her “culture” and in fact did not believe in the slightest that there “is no enjoyment like reading” any more than she believes what she says next: “How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!”

    That’s the context of the quotation, and someone promoting (I presume) sound money should, I would think, hesitate to put on it a quotation that, though it seems like worthy praise, is in fact the opposite.

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