On Wednesday, British feminists won what might seem like a small victory: Keeping a woman on their banknotes.
Earlier this month, the Bank of England announced that it would be retiring the face of Elizabeth Fry, an 1800s British philanthropist, from five pound bills and replacing her with Winston Churchill. British feminists, led by writer Caroline Criado-Perez, responded with fury. Aside from the Queen, Fry was the only woman on a British bill. Without her, women would be underrepresented in the wallets of every Briton.
By Wednesday, the Bank had relented: While Churchill will still take his spot on the five pound note, Charles Darwin is getting booted from the 10 pound bill in favor of famed female author Jane Austen.
America might be able to learn something from this tiff across the pond. After all, there no women on U.S. paper dollar bills — and only one woman, Sacagawea, the Native American translator for Lewis and Clark, on a coin.
Here are a few other women who deserve to hold a place on our nation’s currency:
Frances Perkins Perkins was the first woman member of a presidential cabinet after she was tapped by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 to be Secretary of Labor. Her crowning achievement was bringing Social Security into reality. After witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 that killed 146 workers, she became a life-long proponent of workers’ rights. She also was breadwinner for her family after her husband was afflicted with a mental disorder, an unusual path for a woman at the time.
Jeannette Rankin Rankin was the first woman ever elected to Congress in 1916. Representing Montana, Rankin was a tireless advocate for peace and anti-war causes and voted with forty-nine other House colleagues against the U.S. entering World War I. She was also the first woman to organize a major campaign for a seat in the Senate, although she was defeated.
Shirley Chisholm Chisholm was the first black woman elected to Congress, in 1969. She served out seven terms there, representing New York’s 12th district — the area of Brooklyn known as Bedford-Stuyvesant. In keeping with her district, Chisholm was a vocal advocate for America’s inner cities, and for child care. A staunch feminist, Chisholm hired a staff of young women, half of whom were black, to fill major positions in her office on Capitol Hill. She was also the first black woman to run for president. There is an amazing portrait of Chisholm hanging in the US Capitol.
Sandra Day O’Connor O’Connor made history as the first female justice on the Supreme Court, where she worked to represent the views of women among her eight male colleagues. Though she was known to be fairly conservative, her landmark decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood upheld abortion rights, protected under Roe v. Wade, for generations of women. As a woman, O’Connor struggled to find a job as a lawyer. But by the time she retired from the bench, she’d paved a career path for generations of women.
And if we really want to follow the Brits’ example…
Edith Wharton Wharton was the first American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, receiving it for her novel The Age of Innocence in 1921. She published more than 40 books over her career, including Ethan Fromme and The House of Mirth. Putting her on currency would be fitting as her novels were often biting criticisms of America’s class structures and the materialism of the rich.