With the Treasury Department’s decision to boot Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill in place of a woman, we have until 2020 - a century after women achieved voting rights - to choose which lovely lady to take his place. While the decision is ultimately in the hands of Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary, he’s seeking out public input. This will be the first time in 119 years that a female figure will adorn the face of American currency. Now we’re wondering which Jewish women we’d like to see on the new $10 bill.
It’s the law that no living person can appear on a bill, which leaves out contestants such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem. Ginsburg, the second female Supreme Court Justice and the first Jewish female Justice in history, is a long-time women’s rights activist and advocate of abortion rights. Fellow feminist, Steinem, now advocates internationally for equality after having risen among the ranks of women’s rights leaders after her New York Magazine article, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation.”
Among Steinem’s contemporaries was Betty Friedan (1921-2006). Friedan’s 1963 book, “The Feminine Mystique,” helped ignite the second wave of American Feminism, after the first wave, which focused mostly on suffrage. Friedan co-funded the National Organization of Women (NOW) and organized the nationwide Women’s Strike for Equality. Friedan also proposed the Equal Rights Amendment and founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws.
Another writer, Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was best known for writing “The New Colossus,” the sonnet that appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the poem goes. Born in New York to Jewish immigrants from Portugal, Lazarus wrote a number of poems, a novel, and two plays. She supported Henry George’s single tax movement, and argued for a Jewish state 13 years before Theodore Herzl did.
Born a little after Lazarus, Lillian Wald (1867-1940) was a nurse and human rights activist. In 1893, Wald began teaching a nursing class for immigrant families living on New York’s Lower East Side. She founded the Henry Street Settlement to provide social and health services to the poor. Soon after, she began advocating for minority and women’s rights, participated in the suffrage campaign, and helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Last but not least, while not a political activist, Gertrude Elion (1918-1999) has saved thousands of American lives through her work in medicine. A biochemist and pharmacologist, Elion developed the first treatment for leukemia, the first immunosuppressive agent used in organ transplants, malaria and cancer treatments, just to name a few. Her innovative research methods later lead to the discovery of AZT, the first drug used to treat AIDS. Elion won a Nobel Prize in 1988.
Rebbe Schneerson once wrote that men and women “are equally vital,” not only in Jewish life, but also “in any healthy human society.” Women help set the tone for their communities, he once said. Now with so many women having integrally contributed to American society, the Treasury Department may have a tough decision to make on which heroine to feature on the $10 bill.