Free good idea: Put a Native American woman on the $20 bill

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A number of groups have started campaigns urging the U.S. Mint to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with a woman or a Native or African American. Now the host of NPR’s Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep, is chiming in with an intriguing compromise.

In a New York Times op-ed published Tuesday morning Inskeep recommended putting a different face on each side of the bill.


“But that doesn’t mean [Andrew] Jackson should go completely. He should remain on the $20 bill, but on the flip side — because there’s a flip side of the story,” Inskeep wrote in the editorial.

Inskeep provided a few other examples, like keeping Abraham Lincoln on one side of the $5 bill and on the flip side, adding ”Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who prodded him to move faster to end slavery.”

Jackson, who didn’t believe in a central banking system, has become a prime target for the campaign to add diversity to U.S. currency. He favored gold and silver coin, or "hard money," over paper currency, points out the group Women on $20s, which is lobbying to put a woman on the $20 bill by 2020.

Inskeep also spent some time in his op-ed looking at Jackson’s troubling history of pushing Native American tribes out of resource-rich land.


One of Women on $20’s proposals is to put a Native American woman on the $20 bill: Wilma Mankiller, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and the first elected female Chief of a native nation in modern times.

Former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller’s mockup on a $20 bill. (Photo: Women on 20s)

There is precedent for putting women on U.S. currency. In 2003 the U.S. Mint put author Helen Keller on the reverse of the Alabama quarter. Susan B. Anthony was on the dollar coin until 1981. The only woman on U.S. currency that is circulating is Sacagawea, the Native American woman who served as a guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition. She’s been gracing the dollar coin since 1999.

There’s no particularly stringent rules for who graces dollar bills; according to U.S. law, they just have to be dead, the New Yorker's Vauhini Vara points out. Then it’s all up to the Secretary of the Treasury, who decides on the portraits and design of the bill.


President Obama last year said he thought “it was a pretty good idea” to put a woman on U.S. currency.

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