5.4: Representations of Gender and Race on Currency
The proposal to include Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill and Maya Angelou and Sally Ride on quarters opens an important topic for critical media analysis.
Given their constant use, the images on banknotes and coins become part of everyone's accepted stock of knowledge. We take for granted that George Washington looked like just he appears on the $1 bill, Alexander Hamilton like he does on the $10 bill, and so on. At the same time, the vast majority of images on U.S. money have been of White men, conveying a message that women and people of color are less deserving of the honor of currency recognition.
The history of women and people of color on currency are largely untold stories. Since World War I, women have appeared only on coins, namely Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and Helen Keller. Martha Washington appeared on $1 silver certificates in 1886 and Pocahontas on the $20 bill in the 1860s. Booker T. Washington was the first African American on a coin in 1946; Jackie Robinson, Duke Ellington, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and the Tuskegee Airmen, among others have appeared since then. A Native American figure appeared on the Indian Head penny, but the model was a liberty lady wearing an Native American head-dress; only a few million Buffalo nickels were minted in the early 20th century.
In these activities, you will analyze how women and people of color have been displayed on currency before proposing new images that suggest their importance and impact on American society and culture.
Activity 1: Examine the Images of Women and People of Color on Currency
- Explore the following resources about women, African Americans, and Native Americans on money:
- Women on Money, National Museum of American History
- Native American Images on Money, South Dakota Public Broadcasting
- For the Love of Money: Black Icons on U.S. Currency, Google Arts & Culture
- Select one currency image featuring a woman, African American, or Native American and critically evaluate it using the Teacher and Student Guide to Analyzing Images.
- Create a video, screen recording, or interactive image to present your findings.
- Interactive image:
- Start a new Google Drawings canvas.
- Upload a screenshot of the currency image to the middle of the canvas.
- Insert text boxes and shapes to call attention to your findings.
- Add links to additional information (e.g., the original image source).
- Interactive image:
Activity 2: Campaign for Changes in the Images on Currency
- Select a woman, Native American, Black American, or other traditionally marginalized individual who you believe deserves to be on U.S. currency.
- Then, design a social media campaign to encourage people to write to political leaders to add that individual to U.S. currency.
- The social media campaign should include at least 2 videos (e.g., YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok), 5 example posts, and 3 images (e.g., memes, graphics, infographics) designed by you.
- Make sure to describe why the person you selected should be on U.S. currency.
- Bonus: Create a prototype drawing (digital or pencil/paper) of what the currency might look like with the individual you selected on it.
Activity 3: Design Images for Digital Currency
Digital currency is emerging as a means of exchange around the world. For example, early in 2021, China began testing in cities its own homegrown digital currency, the Electronic Chinese Yuan (New York Times, March 1, 2021).
- Design a digital currency for use by the United States and other countries featuring influential individuals from history.
- You can use the following Create Your Own Currency app from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago to assist with your design process.
- The Faces on Every US Bill
- An Extremely Brief History of Women on U.S. Paper Currency, The Atlantic
- Who, What, Why: How do you get your face on the dollar?, BBC News
- How and why people are chosen to appear on US currency
Connecting to the eBook
Connecting to the Standards
- Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
- Analyze the Constitutional issues that caused the Civil War and led to the eventual expansion of the power of the federal government and individual civil rights. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T5.3]
- ISTE Standards
- Digital Citizen
- 2c: Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
- Knowledge Constructor
- 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
- 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources.
- 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
- Creative Communicator
- 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
- 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
- 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences.
- Digital Citizen
- DLCS Standards
- Ethics and Laws (CAS.b)
- Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
- Digital Tools (DTC.a)
- Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
- Research (DTC.c)
- English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards