The Campaign to Put a Woman on the $20 Bill Worked—Sort Of

"This should be the next best thing," activist says of Treasury's announcement that it will put a woman on the $10 bill.

For Susan Ades Stone, the news that the Treasury Department will redesign the $10 bill to feature a woman was a victory and a slight letdown.

"The fact that a women will be sharing the bill—it seems like a hedge in a way."

Stone is the executive director of Women on 20s, a national campaign to replace Andrew Jackson's visage on the $20 note with a portrait of a historic American woman. Earlier this year, Women on 20s released a nationwide online survey, asking people which of 15 women should take Jackson's place. More than 600,000 voted, and Harriet Tubman was declared the winner in March.

The Treasury's plans, announced late Wednesday, aren't exactly in line with the campaign's vision. For one, the woman will appear on the $10 bill, not the $20. (Women on 20s thought that Jackson was ripe for replacement, given his anti-Native American legacy.)

But also, there's this: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "has made clear that the image of Alexander Hamilton will remain part of the $10 note," a Treasury Department press release states. So the first woman to grace paper currency since Martha Washington appeared on a $1 note in the 1890s will have to share the space with a man.

"The fact that a women will be sharing the bill—it seems like a hedge in a way," Stone says.

She is pleased, however, that Treasury's announcement honors the spirit of the campaign. "Our money is going to reflect who we are as a society now. I think it's long overdue," she says. "This should be the next best thing. We've been asking for historic change, and this is the first step."

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat from New Hampshire who introduced a bill in April to put a woman on the $20, echoed a similar sentiment in a statement Wednesday night. "While it might not be the $20 bill, make no mistake, this is a historic announcement and a big step forward," Shaheen said.

Treasury intermittently updates the paper currency in order to thwart counterfeiters. In 2013, the department determined the $10 bill was due for an overhaul. In addition to new security features and a new portrait, the redesigned $10 will also have "a tactile feature that will assist the blind and visually impaired in denominating currency," the Treasury press release states.

Stone and her partner, Barbara Ortiz, the founder of Women on 20s, will appear at a Thursday press conference with Lew. She said officials have not said whether the woman for the new $10 bill will be Harriet Tubman. "But I imagine they will be taking it into consideration," Stone says.

Another point of modest disappointment: Stone and Ortiz wanted a new note to be in circulation by 2020, the 100-year anniversary of womens' right to vote. Treasury only promises the new design will be unveiled by then. When the bill will enter circulation has yet to be determined.

"It's a little disappointing to hear they may not make that deadline," Stone says. "We want to be holding those bills when we celebrate 100 years. In that way, it is not a victory for us. But I do think that it is a historic change, and for that, I am really pleased."