The 'Hamilton' Compromise That Painfully Mirrors The Women's Rights Struggle
We're now well into Women's History Month, a time purposefully set aside to celebrate women's contributions, and although few will disagree with the fact that American history includes countless tales of exceptional and influential women, a proposal to prominently feature a woman on U.S. currency for the first time in more than a century continues to meet nothing but controversy and resistance. On Wednesday, however, after it emerged that we'll almost certainly see a woman sharing the redesigned $10 bill with a man, Alexander Hamilton, it became increasingly clear that the struggle to get a woman prominently featured on paper currency perfectly embodied America's women's rights movement: consistently too little given far too late and only after significant teeth pulling.
After renewing public interest in Alexander Hamilton, one of America's founding fathers, creator of the hip-hop-infused Broadway musical "Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda, took his crusade to preserve Hamilton's legacy straight to U.S. Treasury. Miranda tweeted Wednesday that he had spoken with Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew earlier in the week regarding his plan to redesign the $10 bill and possibly replace Hamilton's image with that of a still undecided woman. "Sec. Lew told me 'you're going to be very happy,'" Miranda tweeted with the hashtag #wegetthejobdone.
The Treasury refrained from expounding on Miranda's remark, and instead told The New York Times, "The Secretary thanked Miranda for the ingenious way in which he has been able to tell Hamilton’s story and ignite a renewed interest in one of our nation’s founding fathers. Secretary Lew also reiterated his commitment to continue to honor Alexander Hamilton on the 10 dollar bill."
Let me be clear here: I am not attempting to paint Miranda's efforts to protect the celebration of Hamilton's impact as a direct affront to women. In fact, I agree with Miranda's argument that, as America's first secretary of Treasury, Hamilton is well-deserving of a spot on U.S. currency and that perhaps one of the more controversial figures currently emblazoned on our bills in shades of green could be replaced. (I'm looking at you, Andrew Jackson.) My problem is that, like many of the rights women have struggled for, this homage to women is coming far too slowly and with far too much compromise.
Lew first announced his plan to feature a woman on paper currency in June of last year, and while some women's rights groups lobbied for the $20 bill, Lew said the Treasury would add a woman to the $10 bill instead to combat counterfeiting. The announcement was historic given that women (Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea) have so far only appeared on the rarely used dollar coin and because the Treasury has not added a new portrait to U.S. currency since 1976. Now, however, a woman won't receive her own bill at all, and a mockup of the new design won't even be released until 2020.
With each new development, this "step in the right direction" is turning into another instance where women are begrudgingly given only half of what they deserve. Why do we still seem so reluctant to embed images of women's impact and influence into our society?