clock menu more-arrow no yes

Harriet Tubman will be on the front of the $20 bill, with Andrew Jackson on the back

The Treasury Department will put Harriet Tubman's face on the $20 bill, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced Wednesday. But contrary to previous reports that Tubman would replace Jackson entirely, Lew told reporters that Jackson will still appear on the back of the $20 bill.

It was expected that a woman would replace Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, but it wasn't known which woman. Tubman's name had been floated as a likely candidate, however.

Alexander Hamilton's face will also stay on the front of the $10 bill, Politico reported, and won't be replaced by a woman as was previously speculated.

That idea was derailed in part by the popularity of the new Broadway musical Hamilton and many pointing out Hamilton is intricately linked to the nation's monetary policy history. Lew also floated the idea of an odd compromise: keeping Hamilton on the front and putting a woman on the back.

Instead, the back of the $10 bill will now feature leaders in the movement to give women the right to vote, and a redesigned $5 bill will feature leaders of the civil rights era. And rather than letting those changes be the only nod to diversity on new US currency, they will happen alongside changing the face of the $20 bill.

Feminist activists like the group Women on 20s have been calling for a change like this. Other critics, including Vox's Matt Yglesias, have argued that Jackson deserves to be replaced regardless because of his pro-slavery advocacy, his genocidal actions against Native Americans, and his opposition to paper money as a policy.

Still, the changes will take a while to actually go into effect. The new $20 bills won't be in circulation until 2030.

It's ironically appropriate to put Tubman on the $20, Vox's Phil Edwards notes. In addition to her work on the Underground Railroad, Tubman served in the Civil War as a scout, nurse, cook, and spy for the Union. But she struggled to get the pension she was owed after the war — and eventually was awarded $20 a month, a discounted rate from a full soldier's pension of $25 a month.

Replacing Jackson with Tubman would have been particularly appropriate, some activists argue, because it replaces a slavery proponent with the nation's most famous abolitionist and former slave who led other slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. But keeping Jackson on the bill with her could present some issues.

And advocates argue that it's problematic to put Tubman on the $20 at all, given her opposition to slavery as a capitalist enterprise. "Tubman didn’t respect America’s economic system, so making her a symbol of it would be insulting," Feminista Jones wrote in the Washington Post last year.

Update: This post has been updated with the news that Jackson will still appear on the back of the new $20 bill with Tubman's face on the front.


Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.