Paper currency (or, if we’re getting technical, cotton and linen currency) is an undeniable part of our day-to-day economic and financial existence, regardless of how often we may pay with plastic and how soon the world may seriously consider digital currency. Perhaps because of its conspicuous role or its symbolic significance, paper currency and whose images are represented on it has long been a topic of interest. Women On 20s, a nonprofit grassroots organization, has played an integral part in bringing attention to the lack of female representation on paper currency. Since 2014 the organization has been campaigning for a woman’s face on the $20 bill by 2020 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. On June 17, the U.S. Department of the Treasury made a historic announcement: for the first time in more than 100 years, a woman will be featured on U.S. paper currency. More specifically, a woman will be featured on the upcoming redesign of the $10 bill.


The United States Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The $10 Bill: A Brief History Lesson

But first, some background. In 1690 the first paper currency was issued in what would later become the United States. The dollar was later adopted as the United States’ official unit of currency in 1785. Prior to the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913, U.S. paper currency came in numerous types and underwent numerous changes. The Federal Reserve System provided a more reliable monetary standard by establishing the Federal Reserve note, or essentially what we recognize as paper currency today. The first $10 denomination of Federal Reserve notes was introduced in 1914 and featured President Andrew Jackson. Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, along with the U.S. Treasury Building were first featured on the $10 bill in 1929. As you may recall from history and/or economics class, October 29, 1929, or “Black Tuesday,” ushered in the beginning of the Great Depression. The new design featuring notable symbols of the U.S. economy was intended to revive some hope in dark economic times.


$10 U.S. note (front) Series 1901; example of pre-Federal Reserve banknote Source: Wikimedia Commons

Redesigns of paper currency have multiple aims, primary among those is updating security features to deter counterfeiting. Counterfeiting in America has occurred at least since the American Revolution and arguably reached its peak around the Civil War, with estimates suggesting that one in three bills was

$10 U.S. Federal Reserve note (front) Series 2009 featuring Alexander Hamilton Source: Wikimedia Commons

$10 U.S. Federal Reserve note (front) Series 2009 featuring Alexander Hamilton
Source: Wikimedia Commons

fake! In fact, combating rampant counterfeiting was the sole reason that the U.S. Secret Service was established in 1865. As technology continues to evolve, combating and deterring counterfeiting requires a combined effort from multiple governmental groups. Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence (ACD), an office within the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is responsible for coordinating among these groups and provides recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury regarding which bill should be redesigned and when.

Who Will Make it Onto the New $10 Bill?

While many may have wanted to see a woman’s face on the $20 by 2020, the ACD recommended the $10 bill as the next note to be updated. (The $10 bill’s current design debuted in 2006.) The New Ten will depict the theme of democracy and is scheduled to be revealed in 2020. But who will be featured on the New Ten? While Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and Helen Keller have all been featured on circulating U.S. coins, Pocahontas and Martha Washington are the only other women to have had the honor of being featured on U.S. paper currency—back in the late 19th century. Perhaps the face of the New Ten will be Harriet Tubman, who edged out Eleanor Roosevelt in Women On 20s’ poll for the new face of the $20 bill. The Treasury has yet to announce who will appear on the New Ten with Alexander Hamilton, but whichever woman is next to be featured will share the honor with some very “noteworthy” Americans.