10 Women Who Belong on the New $10 Bill

Activists, leaders, and at least one pop star who deserve a place on American currency

Harriet Tubman on the $10 bill. Credit: Getty

Last week, the Obama administration announced that when the $10 bill begins circulating with a new design in 2020, it will have a woman's face on it. The Treasury Department is now collecting suggestions for eligible candidates via social media. The only requirements: The notable woman must be deceased, and her achievements must reflect the theme of democracy. Many questions remain: Given the current state of the gender wage gap, will this lady-faced $10 bill be worth a mere $7.80? Or would it be worth even less if the face of the bill is a woman of color? (Scroll down in that last link to see how Latinas today on average earn just 54 cents for every dollar their white male counterparts make, African-American women earn 64 cents on the dollar, and so on.) While we're on this subject, should we go big and eliminate the monetary system entirely? In the meantime, here are the 10 best possibilities for the next powerful woman to grace federal currency.

1. Shirley Chisholm

Born in Brooklyn to West Indian parents (cue airhorn), Shirley Chisholm ran a daycare program while attending Columbia University and volunteering for the League of Women Voters. In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to Congress. Four years later, she was the first black woman to run for president under the banner of the Democratic party. Her campaign slogan: "Unbought and unbossed." Come to think of it, that sounds cooler than "In God We Trust," doesn't it?

2. Inez Milholland

Inez Milholland was more than just a lovely lady sitting atop a horse at the historic Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 – this woman was a true badass. She was denied admission at Yale, Harvard, and Cambridge because of her gender before finally earning her law degree at New York University. She fiercely advocated for the human rights of prisoners, even handcuffing herself to an incarcerated person while investigating Sing Sing. She was also a war correspondent during World War I and an ardent labor activist – and she worked towards racial justice with the NAACP without resorting to a Rachel Dolezal-style identity swap. Milholland died of complications related to her pernicious anemia in 1916 while on a speaking tour for the National Woman's Party. Her famous last words were, "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?" Some of us are still wondering.

3. Dolores Huerta

Though she's still alive and kicking some serious ass, we implore Washington lawmakers to consider an exception to the rules for one of the most prolific activists of the last century. The daughter of a union organizer, Huerta worked as a teacher in Stockton, California before she decided to call it quits and take to the fields. "I couldn't tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes," she said. "I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children." Huerta worked alongside iconic Mexican-American labor activist César Chávez to mobilize California farm workers for better labor laws and protections. In 1962, they founded the National Farmworkers Association, now known as United Farm Workers. She has also dedicated herself to fighting for the civil rights of Latinos and immigrants. She's racked up honors including the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she's not stopping anytime soon. A place on U.S. currency would be a nice way to round out that list. 

4. Harriet Tubman

Known best as a legendary conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman lived almost 30 years as a slave in Maryland. She endured a serious head wound after an overseer struck her with a weight as a child, leaving her to suffer through epileptic seizures for the rest of her life. She was nonetheless able to play a crucial role in the mass escape of enslaved people to the North before the Civil War, risking her life to help liberate more than 300 slaves over the course of many unfathomably brave trips across the Mason-Dixon Line. After war broke out, Tubman became a Union spy and was later a strong advocate of universal women's suffrage. She remains perhaps the most recognizable face of resistance to the American slave system and a major hero in our nation's history – which is probably why she's currently leading the race for the new $10 star, according to reports. Sometimes the obvious choice is the right one.

5. Eleanor Roosevelt

The fact that Eleanor Roosevelt was married to a president is perhaps the least impressive thing about her. A lifelong champion of racial and gender justice, she dramatically transformed the traditional role of First Lady, transcending the vacant smile-and-wave routine to hold her own press conferences and become the first woman to speak at a national party convention. She often publicly opposed FDR on key issues, including the paltry compensation for African-Americans under the New Deal – no minor accomplishment in an era when most married American women, let alone the president's wife, were expected to respect their husbands' authority on all matters. She later became America's representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, chaired the Kennedy administration's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, and lives on as an enduring feminist icon.

6. Wilma Mankiller

Nearly 150 years after the notorious death march known as the Trail of Tears, Wilma Mankiller became the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in the 1980s. She held this historic post for a decade, a critical time during which the Cherokee Nation's population grew dramatically, nearly doubling during her tenure. Mankiller helped expand health and education services for Cherokees, improved the tribe's relationship with the federal government, and became one of the most prominent native leaders of the 20th century. After her retirement, Bill Clinton gave her a Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor in the country. Putting her on the $10 bill would be an even greater symbolic recognition.

7. Alice Paul

Perhaps the fiercest proponent of women's suffrage, Alice Paul fought passionately for women's right to vote in both the U.S and the U.K. In return for her efforts, she saw the inside of jail cells on both sides of the Atlantic. As depicted in the made-for-TV film Iron Jawed Angels, Paul staged the first political demonstration outside the White House in 1917, known as the Silent Sentinels. Two prison sentences and one hunger strike later, she saw the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1920, allowing women to vote (although this right was not extended, in practical terms, to women of color in many parts of the country). Paul would later co-author the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment…which Americans have been sleeping on since the Seventies, when Congress passed it only to watch it fail the ratification process in the states. A spot in the nation's wallets wouldn't exactly make up for that, but it would be something. 

8. Ida B. Wells

Born into slavery just two years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Wells was an accomplished journalist, editor and co-owner of the Memphis Free Speech, an anti-segregationist paper. She was also a founding member of the NAACP. A pioneering activist, Wells sued a railroad for dragging her off a train after she refused to give up her seat in the "first-class ladies car" – an act of civil disobedience that predated Rosa Parks' famous bus action by 71 years. Wells is perhaps best known today for documenting the widespread lynching of African-Americans in her independent publication, A Red Record. Her ardent preservation of African-American history and struggle should not go unnoticed.

9. Christine Jorgensen

Formerly a Bronx-born U.S. Navy private, Christine Jorgensen became the first widely documented person to undergo gender-reassignment surgery in 1952. The news spread like wildfire around the world, scoring tons of sensational tabloid headlines that rivaled the ones inspired by Caitlyn Jenner this year – and her story effectively kicked off America's journey toward full rights and respect for transgender people. Jorgensen went on to perform regularly at nightclubs and worked diligently for the rights and visibility of trans women before her death at age 62. We still have a long way to go before trans people achieve true equality in this country, but putting Jorgensen on the $10 bill would be an appreciated gesture.

10. Beyoncé

Yes, we know, this is technically another violation of the 1873 law that says living people can't appear on U.S. currency. But come on. Beyoncé is worth breaking the rules. If anyone's a perfect 10, it's her. Wouldn't you like to see her on the next $10 bill you spend?