Women, Votes and the $20 Bill – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of men granting women the right to vote, we should remember that it took two or three generations from the first women’s rights conference in 1848 until that right was granted. Women protested, picketed, and were imprisoned around the US. The disdain for these protesters was strong and anti-Suffragist protests were loud even in Nashville. Sound familiar? Not surprisingly, when the 19th amendment passed in Tennessee, it did so just barely, and was then contested. Fortunately, attempts to rescind passage were not successful and Tennessee became the deciding vote in passing women’s voting rights nationally.

So given our activist history, why are only 19.6% of elected officials in Congress women. And why, in the 2016 presidential election, did only one-third of women eligible to vote cast a ballot?  There’s never been a woman president or vice president or chief justice of the Supreme Court. And in Tennessee, which was so instrumental in passing the voting rights legislation, there’s never been a woman governor.

What is the problem? Why aren’t women more prominent in leadership? Are we ignorant of history and therefore taking it for granted? Then read this newspapers’ columns by Linda Moss Mines about the amazing stories behind passing Constitutional Amendment 19 and achieving women’s right to vote. Consider that this Centennial isn’t just a once in a lifetime commemoration, it’s happens only once in several generations.

But I worry that women and their supporters are just too depressed to care about voting given all the economic and social issues confronting us. Can we get over thatWhy Bother” attitude? Consider that 76% of public school teachers are women. And 80% of bank tellers, 83% of social workers, 91% of nurses, and 70% of wait staff are women. Yet only thirty-three of the Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. And of the handful of African American CEOs, none are women. It’s way past time that women are seen, heard, and elevated to leadership.

Still not inspired to vote? Dig into the stories of women who are historic icons. A great example is Harriet Tubman who was born into slavery, escaped and then rescued 70 enslaved people using the network we know as the Underground Railroad. Truly a Woman of Valor! Tubman was to be on the $20 dollar bill this year to commemorate the  passage of the 19th Amendment.

So why was the new $20 bill postponed? Treasury Secretary Mnuchin claimed the design delay was over counterfeiting issues while announcing that plans for new $10 and $50 bills would go forward.Yet The New York Times reported that the Tubman $20 bill had already been designed.

We know what really happened. President Trump nixed putting Tubman on the currency saying it was pure political correctness”. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen angrily responded saying “…this delay sends an unmistakable message to women and girls, and communities of color.”

Can Shaheen get legislation passed to produce the Tubman $20 bills in 2021, or will it take another 100 years? My hope is that we see a positive cultural shift with Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his Vice President. But I’m prepared for the “extraordinarily nasty” tidal wave of name calling already begun by Trump who claimed that men may feel insulted by a woman VP choice.

Despite the inevitable divisiveness, I’m hopeful for a huge turnout of voters who support women in leadership. I’m hoping for an historic Centennial and that someday soon, I’ll have a $20 bill that’s more valuable than anything I’ve ever had in my wallet.


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