Shove Over, Mr. Hamilton: Our Top 10 Women for the New $10 Bill
Rosa Parks, Oprah, Eleanor Roosevelt: The suggestions for which woman should be on the $10 note are brilliant but familiar. The Daily Beast has its own wish list.
The $10 bill will be getting a new face in 2020—and it will belong to a woman.
The Treasury Department has finally decided to pay it forward (yes, that terrible pun was intended) and disrupt the patriarchy of U.S. currency.
An American with a vagina will finally grace our bills after a long hiatus—even though, rather frustratingly, she will have to share the actual note or at least some of the printings with Hamilton, according to the U.S. Treasury.
While some argue Hamilton shouldn’t have to share the space, the long-overdue news is exciting, especially considering that the only women to be printed on U.S. currency are: Pocahontas, who was placed on currency in the mid-19th Century, though as part of a group portrait; Martha Washington, who appeared on the silver dollar note until 1896; and Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, who both wore printed on the dollar coin.
Many women have been thrown out as frontrunners for the $10 spot: Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, civil rights leader Rosa Parks, astronaut Sally Ride, and the inimitable Oprah are all considered leading choices (though by federal law, no living person may be featured on a bill).
But The Daily Beast has decided to compile a list of women who are a bit more under the radar but are no less deserving of gracing the $10 bill—though yes, some are still living.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
Phillis Wheatley’s journey from captured slave to revered poet is nothing short of remarkable.
Taken from her West Africa home as a young girl, she was purchased by wealthy Bostonian John Wheatley as a present for his wife.
Wheatley proved outstandingly brilliant, learning to read and write, despite all the physical and emotional hardship she had suffered on her voyage.
Before the U.S. was even an independent country, she published her first book of poems in 1773, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
Her poems often alluded to Christian and Classical themes, but Wheatley was also an ardent patriot who championed the birth of the U.S. She earned recognition from the leading Founding Fathers, corresponding with George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
Yet she was also brave enough to advocate in her poem, “On Being Brought from Africa to America” for white Christians to honor their black brethren.
Life after the war proved difficult for Wheatley who fell into a bad marriage. She died alone in poverty in 1784.
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
In 1884, more than 70 years before Rosa Parks became one of the most famous civil rights activists for refusing to move to the back of the bus, Ida B. Wells refused to move from the first-class section of a train after a conductor told her she was not permitted there.
In response, she “fastened her teeth on the back of his hand.”
That moment of ferocity was not an isolated one in Wells’ long career as a civil rights activist, teacher, and newspaper editor.
Born into slavery in 1862, Wells would grow up to attend college at Fisk University and become an anti-lynching crusader.
In 1898, she even organized an anti-lynching protest before the White House. She also helped found the National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Wells was also a devoted advocate of women’s rights and ran for state senator of Illinois, where she moved due to threats made against her life in the South.
She famously said, “The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth upon them.”
Frances Perkins (1882-1965)
Not only was Frances Perkins the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet, she oversaw the execution of what would be on the most critical and enduring pieces of legislation, the Social Security Act of 1935.
As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Perkins served during one of the most financial devastating times in U.S. history. Yet, she successfully held the role for 12 years, a record for the position.
Prior to her federal service, Perkins served in various consumer advocacy roles in New York City, including at the time of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of immigrant women.
Perkins was deeply committed to improving the lives of laborers. “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen,” she said of her role.
Even after she resigned, Perkins continued to advocates for workers’ rights and protections. She lectured at Cornell University two weeks before her death.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911-1956)
Before Serena and Venus Williams, Mia Hamm, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Babe Didrikson Zaharias paved the way for women to be recognized as athletes.
Sportswriter Joe Williams complained that women “would be much better if she stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.” She was never deterred from her goal, “to be the greatest athlete who ever lived.”
It’s hard to think of a sport where she didn’t excel. She was recruited to play basketball for an amateur team before she even finished high school.
She took two gold medals and one silver in track and field at the 1932 Olympics (side note, although Didrikson qualified for five events, women were only permitted to compete in three at the time).
Didrikson is even better known for her golf career, winning the U.S. Women’s Open, the World Championship and the All-American Open in 1948 alone.
She managed to win the U.S. Women’s Open in 1954, after she had already endured surgery and discovered she had inoperable cancer. Didrikson is the only athlete, male or female, to be awarded the Associated Press Athlete of the Year award six times.
Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Before you all get up in arms, Hedy Lamarr was not born an American, but she died a naturalized citizen.
Also, the stunning actress put her tremendous scientific intellect towards inventing a weapons system that could intercept Nazi attacks during World War II. What’s more patriotic than that?
Lamarr could easily have been brushed off as a pretty face. Some argue the Pentagon did not seriously consider her patent for a radio-controlled torpedo because she was a starlet. But Lamarr, the daughter of a Jewish Austrian family, was devoted to the war effort and also used her fame to raise millions in war bonds.
Unfortunately, Lamarr is often remembered solely for being a sex symbol, especially due to her controversial nude role in 1933’s Ecstasy. Lamarr did not particularly care for being known for her beauty. “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” she said.
Patsy Mink (1927-2002)
Few men or women in politics led as an illustrious or groundbreaking career as Patsy Mink.
The first woman of color elected to Congress, Mink served 12 terms in the House of Representatives for the state of Hawaii.
Mink is remembered most for being one of the leading advocates for the passage of Title IX, which protects against sex-based discrimination in activities receiving federal funding.
Mink herself faced this discrimination as a woman in the lead-up to her political career. She was rejected from every medical school she applied to, reportedly because she was a woman.
After graduating form the University of Chicago Law School, she was rejected from firms for being a married woman.
Mink also spoke out against the Vietnam War, and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Her national political career spanned more than three decades.
Mink died in 2002, but she was so popular in Hawaii that she was posthumously elected to Congress that same year.
Edith Windsor (1927-)
Edith/‘Edie’ Windsor didn’t become a household name until she took on the Defense of Marriage Act in her eighties.
When most Americans her age were quietly residing in retirement (or dead), Windsor took the fight for marriage equality front and center, emblematic of her decades of participation in the LGBT movement.
Windsor was born to poor Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia but rose through the ranks at IBM when few women were granted opportunities in the tech world.
She fell in love with Thea Spyer in the 1960s without any thought their relationship would be the fuel for the biggest fight over gay rights brought before the Supreme Court.
Once thrust into the national spotlight, formerly quiet (and in the early days, closeted) Windsor embraced her role as a community figurehead.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-)
A new generation of Americans have rediscovered the awesomeness of RBG.
The affection for Ginsberg is more than well-deserved. Not only is Ginsberg the second woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice, but she had an incredible journey to the bench.
She attended Harvard Law as one of nine women in a 500-person class. She and every other woman were asked by the dean to explain “what we were doing in the law school occupying a seat that could be held by a man.”
Not only did Ginsberg serve on the prestigious Harvard Law Review, she did so while caring for her husband during his bout with cancer, which included taking notes for him and writing the papers he dictated to her.
While Ginsberg has been part of a number of critical Supreme Court decisions, her dissenting opinion in the 2013 Texas Voting Rights act will go down as one of her most famous contributions.
Even at the age of 82, Ginsberg is continuing the good fight on the Supreme Court. “As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer,” Ginsberg told Elle. “But now I can.”
Billie Jean King (1943-)
Billie Jean King would have easily secured her place in U.S. history by her outstanding career in tennis alone.
With 39 Grand Slam titles under her belt, she is considered one of, if not the, best U.S. players.
But her decisive win in the (in)famous 1973 Battle of the Sexes match with Bobby Riggs solidified her role as a feminist icon. She embraced the Women’s Liberation movement. She went public in the first issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972 as having had an abortion when the procedure was not legal throughout the country.
King was outed as a lesbian in 1981 after a former girlfriend, Marilyn Barnett, filed a palimony suit against her.
King said she lost all of her endorsement deals within 24 hours, but that eventually led to her becoming one of the preeminent LGBT advocates.
In 2014, President Obama appointed King to the U.S. delegation to the Sochi Olympics as a message of defiance against Putin’s anti-LGBT policies.
She remains an active and relevant voice in LGBT advocacy, quickly applauding Caitlyn Jenner.
Oh, and at 71 she rocked out in the most kick-ass way to, you guessed it, “Billie Jean.”
We tried really hard not to put Beyoncé on the list. Not because we don’t think she’s a fantastic singer (we do). Not because we don’t think she is one of the most influential celebrities (we do) and cultural icon (an overused word the latter, in her case much deserved).
Rather, because Beyoncé has become such an amazing role model, she has already been considered an option for the $10 bill. She is almost too obvious, but of course she must be on this list.
There are many great singers who have had an impact on larger society, both socially and culturally, among them Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Barbara Streisand. But Beyoncé has blatantly embraced the title of feminist and taken on the responsibility of inspiring a generation of women.
At last year’s, MTV Video music Awards she even performed against the dramatic backdrop declaring her feminism. With her face on the $10 bill, we’d all be happy to make it rain.