American Culture

What woman should be on the new $10 bill?

The government is deliberating redesigning the $10 and putting a woman on it. Should we select a politician? A Civil Rights figure? An icon of environmentalism? How about an artist? The Scholars & Rogues staff offers some ideas.

Apparently this is a question now. It came up during the recent GOP debate and apparently the best anybody could come up with was “Margaret Thatcher” or “my mom.”


So we put the question to the S&R staff, hoping maybe we could come up with something a tad more credible. Here are our answers, and you can feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Sam Smith

There’s a range of great, semi-obvious answers here, including Martha Washington, Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt. But in the end I settled on Audre Lorde. Our culture honors political figures plenty and business figures way too damned much, but the truth is that we have a vibrant artistic history. In so many ways Lorde, one of our greatest poets, reflects our collective creative genius and she also reflects, in even more ways, the values that define our times. (And no, I don’t think Emily Dickinson would be a better choice.)

For more, please read my S&R Honors tribute to her.

Dan Ryan

Rosa Parks, a quiet, humble woman who simply had enough, who was a hero to multitudes but just herself to herself.

Jim Booth

Two points:

1) Instead of spending millions on this largely symbolic act, what if we plowed that money into encouraging and enforcing equal pay for women? I’m pretty sick of grandstanding bullshit being passed off as attempts to address real social problems.

2) If this is going to be done, why is Alexander Hamilton, who wanted a federal bank and who gave us the decimal system of coinage, neither of which are bad things, being booted from the money system he created? I propose replacing the racist slave owner, Indian genocidist, and private bank lover Andrew Jackson on the 20.

3) Nominee? Dan’s suggestion Rosa Parks is a great choice. I’d suggest Harriet Tubman who helped a lot of people escape slavery. She’d be sort of the anti-Jackson….

Cat White

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I am torn about the choice of which bill should be the proper one.

I love the choice of Harriet Tubman. Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” address was given at the Unitarian church in Akron, Ohio. She was on the front lines of abolition and embraced by early feminists.

Susan B. Anthony? Yeah, sure. But she already had a coin.

Eleanor Roosevelt? Actually my number one choice. She had real influence and power combined with intent.

Rosa Parks is a natural choice because of what followed her action.

Unfortunately we lack a nationally-elected female leader to put on our money.

How about Jeannette Rankin? First woman to serve in Congress, voted for the 19th Amendment, against both World Wars.


Rachel Carson should be on the new $10 bill. Carson is one of those people who, in spite of significant opposition, changed everything. She was already a best selling author and respected naturalist when her major book, Silent Spring, was published in 1962. It is difficult from this distance to understand the impact this book had (including its serialization in The New Yorker Magazine before actually being published).

Carson pointed out, quite elegantly but furiously, what impact insecticides such as DDT was having on the natural kingdom, particularly bird populations. The book resulted eventually in severe limitations on the use of DDT and other similar products including a DDT ban in the US. But considerably more importantly, the book essentially gave birth to the modern environmental movement, not to mention a significant expansion of government oversight of environmental issues. These were both seminal developments, and while they might have emerged anyway, Carson’s work on the relation between DDT and cancer provided a galvanizing point for both citizen and government action, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ironically, Carson herself died in 1963 from cancer herself. Few books can be said to have changed the world, but Silent Spring did so.

1 reply »

  1. I agree with Jim’s first and second statements. Symbolism is all well and good, but it’s nowhere near as important as real action … and if you’re going to change a symbol, then give some real thought to what lies behind the symbols you’re using. As for who … I think a woman of color would make two important symbolic statements for the price of one, although I do rather favor Rosa Parks, because most people have stood, if only for an instant, in shoes like hers. I mean, most of us have reached a point where we’re just terminally fed up with something that simply isn’t right. But most of us back down, and limit our reaction to a resentful status update on Facebook. She said no, she continued to say no, she accepted the consequences for saying no – and because what she was saying no about was significant to a large number of people, her small no changed America. We may not all have the opportunity or the strength to make great changes, but we can all choose, when faced with a wrong, to say a firm and quiet no.