Mere days after Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States, the new administration announced its intention to put Harriet Tubman – known as Moses – on the twenty-dollar bill. The currency redesign – a relatively common occurrence in the 19th century – was originally set for release in 2020 to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. The majority of Americans supported the redesign in 2016 when the last poll on the issue was taken. President Donald Trump put the project on hold, citing security issues and attributing the Obama initiative to sheer political correctness. While Trump may still view Andrew Jackson as an American hero, historians are quick to point out the complexities of the former U.S. president’s biography. Jackson owned hundreds of slaves and was responsible for the Indian Removal Act that led to the death of about 4,000 Cherokees, forced to walk from the Southern states to modern-day Oklahoma on what is now referred to as the Trail of Tears. Even though he probably should be, Jackson will not be completely removed from the twenty-dollar bill – he’ll just be demoted to the back. The irony of placing Tubman on one side and Jackson on the other on a symbol of national identity has not gone unnoticed and certainly speaks to the division in American society today.
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted American women the right to vote. That is certainly reason to celebrate! But before you break open a bottle of sparkling wine, let’s review a few facts so we can put that momentous achievement into context for our readers less familiar with U.S. history.
Suffrage, the right to vote, was not extended to women at the same time it was granted to blacks in 1870. The first formal attempt to pass an amendment for woman suffrage – and there would be many – was introduced in 1878. For the next 40 years, that amendment was put to a vote in each session of Congress. Yes, 40 years! Let that sink in for a while…. Then, in 1918, the 19th Amendment finally passed the House and the Senate in the following year and was ratified on August 26, 1920. But these are just a few of the details:
After that long struggle, however, many women did not actually take advantage of their right to vote in the 1920 and 1924 elections. Apparently, they thought they already had achieved equal rights. Does that sound familiar? It should. It is exactly what some of the people who oppose the Equal Rights Amendment are saying in 2020.