WASHINGTON – As Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asks the public which famous woman he should put on new $10 bills, historians he’s surveyed privately are building a convincing argument for abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Catherine Clinton, a Tubman biographer, pressed her case at a meeting Lew held with more than a dozen academics and researchers in Washington in August. Together with other Tubman supporters, she swayed some of her colleagues, including Arwen Palmer Mohun, a history professor at the University of Delaware in Newark.
“I walked into that meeting with a list in my head, but a pretty firm conviction that it should be a woman of color,” Mohun said in an interview. “And I walked out convinced that that woman should be Harriet Tubman.”
The Treasury Department has been polling people since June about which woman to honor on redesigned $10 bills that will debut in 2020. That year will be the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Lew said July 29 that he will decide “in the very near future.”
Mohun said the U.S. economy was built on the backs of slaves, and the latest redesigned currency should recognize that legacy. Clinton, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, argues that Tubman liberated herself and others, repeatedly risking her life. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse, a scout and a Union spy.
Those attending the Aug. 5 meeting said it wasn’t a debate that resulted in a winner. Still, most either pointed to Tubman as their top candidate or said the arguments for her were particularly strong.
“The United States is a racially and ethnically pluralist nation. It is only fitting that the faces that adorn U.S. currency reflect that heritage,” American University history Prof. Alan Kraut said.