The Chatter

​Harriet Tubman Tops Poll to Become New Face of U.S. Currency

Former Dorchester County slave became an Underground Railroad leader.

By Ron Cassie | June 23, 2015, 3:05 pm
The Chatter

​Harriet Tubman Tops Poll to Become New Face of U.S. Currency

Former Dorchester County slave became an Underground Railroad leader.

By Ron Cassie | June 23, 2015, 3:05 pm

You may have heard recently that the Treasury Department has a redesign of the $10 bill in the works, including plans to put the first portrait of a woman on U.S. currency in more than a century.

A little controversy has sprouted around the effort—mainly that getting rid of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill because of his pro-slavery and Indian removal policies might be a better idea than replacing Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. But overall, the project seems to have wide backing.

(Martha Washington was the last woman whose face appeared on U.S. paper currency—on silver dollar certificates printed in1886, 1891, and 1895. Pocahontas was also included in a group picture on a $20 note in the mid-19th century.)

There are any number of reasons to support the long overdue measure, including that Harriet Tubman appears to be the frontrunner to have her portrait engraved on the new currency. After 10 weeks of online voting recently organized by the nonprofit Women On 20s—founded to convince Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew that he should authorize a new bill honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020—Tubman emerged the poll winner in a remarkable field that included Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks, among others.

Tubman, of course, was born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in Dorchester County in 1822. She escaped at 27 years old, and then returned an estimated 13 times to help free family, friends, and many dozens of other slaves, becoming a leader in the Underground Railroad. Tubman famously was called the “Moses of her people.”

Not as well known, is that Tubman later served as a nurse, scout, cook, and spy in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, she advocated for women’s suffrage and established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in Auburn, NY, the town where she died in 1913.

By the way, there’s a wonderful, if small, Harriet Tubman Museum, started and run by local volunteers, in downtown Cambridge, MD that is worth a visit. There’s also a self-guided driving tour of the Eastern Shore, known as the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which you can learn about via the Dorchester County Visitor Center in Cambridge. And, last year, Congress passed legislation to approve a new national park in Tubman’s honor in Dorchester County, which is expected to open later this year.

Beyond the Women on 20s poll, there’s been a lot of other buzz (here and here) and national attention around Tubman as potentially the new face of $10 bill, which we think is great and long overdue, too.

Meet The Author

Ron Cassie is a senior editor for Baltimore, where he covers the environment, education, medicine, politics, and city life.

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