A portrait of Harriet Tubman, African-American abolitionist and a Union spy during the American Civil War, circa 1870.
Photo by HB Lindsey/Underwood Archives/Getty

The significance of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

It’s been the subject of considerable public debate for quite a while. U.S. officials were committed to featuring a woman on American paper currency, but it was a matter of choosing the person and the denomination.
Today, that debate appears to have ended in the right place.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will announce Wednesday that abolitionist Harriet Tubman will replace former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.
The long-awaited decision keeps Alexander Hamilton, one of the U.S. founding fathers, on the front of the $10 bill – though suffragists who fought to give women the right to vote will go on the back of the bill, the Treasury Department confirmed.
Civil Rights leaders are expected to go on the $5 bill.
So, Hamilton, whose popularity surged thanks to the Broadway show about his life, gets to keep his place on the $10, while Jackson, a slaveholder who hated banks, will be replaced by a woman best known for leading slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad.
NPR’s report added that the choice and the currency denomination carries a special historical resonance: $20 is the amount Tubman “eventually received from the U.S. government as her monthly pension for her service as a nurse, scout, cook and spy during the Civil War, as well as for her status as the widow of a veteran.”
In other words, the Treasury Department has chosen wisely. There’s just one additional detail of note: when we’ll actually see the changed bills in circulation.
The New York Timesreport added, “The new designs, from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, would be made public in 2020 in time for the centennial of woman’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. None of the bills, including a new $5 note, would reach circulation until the next decade.”
Oh. So, the good news is, Treasury officials have made some excellent decisions about who to honor and how. The bad news is, we won’t get our hands on the new bills until around 2030 or so.