A Dolla Makes Me Holla: Why the British Are Campaigning for New Banknotes

The Bank of England recently unveiled its new £5 note set for release in 2016, and it's come back from the salon with a different look. 19th-century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry is getting the boot, and Sir Winston Churchill will lend his face to the new bill. This decision means the Queen will be the only female on British currency. Since the announcement, a group of citizens has been fighting to get women back on the banknotes, calling on the Bank of England to stop sending out the message that there are no British women of historical significance. The men on the other banknotes are Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, Matthew Boulton, and James Watt.

Where the ladies at? Right here, it seems. Suggestions for a female banknote figure have been pouring in: Historian Judith Flanders suggests suffragette Emily Davidson or novelist George Elliot (who was actually female—it was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans). Other candidates include women's rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft, author Jane Austen, and aviator Amy Johnson. Seems there is no shortage of choice.

These efforts go further than individual frustrations. MP Stella Creasy is leading the campaign in Westminster to get more women on banknotes. 45 other MPs have joined Creasy in writing a letter to the Bank. Caroline Criado-Perez, co-founder of The Women's Room, started a petition that now has close to 30,000 signatories. Criado-Perez argues that a dismissal of female historical figures has a strong impact on the future. "This decision perpetuates the damaging myth that women have contributed nothing to history, and adds to the still persistent sense amongst young women that public life is not for them," she writes.

Flanders points out to the BBC that the people choosing the banknotes' design, the folks at the Bank of England, are for the most part white men. "It's about white upper class men from limited backgrounds having a limited number of heroes," says Flanders. "What is this except a public school boy's list?"

Mark Carney, the new governor for the Bank of England, will be the one to deal with these protests when he takes over on July 1. Criado-Perez plans to present her petition to him at this time, in hopes that Britain will join the likes of Australia, Israel, Norway, and Denmark in equal representation of women on currency.