Harriet Tubman has played many roles in history. Born into slavery in 1822, she mastered the underground railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses, to escape slavery at the age of 27. She returned to Maryland at least 19 times to help free family members and other slaves and set them on the path to a new life.
Tubman then served as a Union spy, providing information to Union soldiers to help lead more slaves to freedom. It is estimated that between her individual missions and through the information she provided as a spy, she saved several hundreds of lives. She became a notorious figure for slave owners, who placed a bounty for her capture. This, coupled with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which imposed severe punishments on any person who assisted the escape of a slave, put Tubman’s life in grave danger.
In later years Tubman assumed the role of caregiver, providing aid to her parents and other needy relatives before eventually settling into the role of activist for woman’s suffrage, traveling to large metropolitan cities spreading women’s right messages. But now, over 100 years after death, she will have one more role: the face the $20 bill. Andrew Jackson, whose place in history has suffered greatly in recent years, will be moved to the back of the $20 bill.
Top 8 Reasons We Should Celebrate Harriet Tubman
- She was fearless – At the age of 27, Tubman freed herself from slavery. No easy feat, if caught the penalties were severe, up to, and including death.
- She was selfless and compassionate– After Tubman freed herself, she returned to Maryland putting her life at risk to free members of her family and other slaves.
- She was a leader – Tubman wore many hats during her lifetime (Union spy, activist, caregiver) and was happy to serve in any role that helped further a cause she believed in.
- She was an activist – Tubman worked to promote the cause of women’s suffrage. Tubman traveled to New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. to speak out in favor of women’s voting rights.
- She was a great speaker – When the National Federation of Afro-American Women was founded in 1896, Tubman was the keynote speaker at its first meeting.
- She is an icon for freedom and women’s rights – Tubman’s name in history is associated with helping to achieve many freedoms enjoyed today.
- She is paving the way – Tubman’s recognized achievements are giving rise to other women in history who contributed to the expansion of equal rights. More women are being considered to be added to U.S. currency bills.
- Harriet Tubman is only the second woman to be depicted on U.S. currency – In the late 19th century, Martha Washington’s graced the $1 silver certificate for a brief period. This illustrates only one of many areas of gender inequality that women in this country need to continue to bring voice to.
The announcement of Harriet Tubman becoming the new face of the $20 bill will bring about the most dramatic change to U.S. currency since 1929. Along with this change, there has been additional discussion about adding more women suffragists and other female leaders in history to the backs of the $5 and $10 bills. Unfortunately, with both President Obama’s and Treasury Secretary Lew’s remaining days in office numbered, these plans will need to come to fruition under a new administration.
The new $20 bill is set to be unveiled in 2020 to commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment establishing women’s suffrage, with wide circulation occurring only later in the decade. This places a 4-year wait until we see the bill with our eyes and additional unknown years until we can finally touch it with our hands.