With news breaking that the U.S. Treasury will elevate Harriet Tubman's face to the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson, it's worth getting to know this heroic woman a little better. Tubman will be the first black American and the first woman to appear with such prominence on U.S. currency.
Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland in the early 1820s. She married a free black man, John Tubman, while still enslaved, but later escaped to freedom in 1849. After her escape, she returned to slave states at least a dozen times to help others find their freedom, using a network of safe houses and secret routes known as the Underground Railroad. Many made their way to Canada, as 1850's Fugitive Slave Law made life in the Northern United States complicated before full emancipation.
Tubman worked as a spy for the Union Army, helped abolitionist John Brown find recruits for his famous Harpers Ferry raid, and after the Civil War lived out the end of her life in Auburn, New York, remarrying, adopting a daughter and doing work for women's suffrage. She died in 1913. Learn more about Tubman and the Underground Railroad in this episode of our Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast:
There's been significant talk over the past year about replacing Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. Our Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast hosts recently discussed the issue. But for now, it looks like that Founding Father is here to stay, though images of women will make it to the back of that note. The New York Times reports that the incredible popularity of the musical "Hamilton," including its recent Pulitzer Prize wins, played a role in the Treasury's decision to keep the founding father on the $10 bill.
While President Andrew Jackson significantly expanded the territory of the United States, he also owned hundreds of slaves and contributed to the genocide of American Indians. Replacing his face with a hero of American freedom like Tubman makes for apt symbolism, and the removal of Jackson is no surprise. Past campaigns had worked to remove Jackson and put Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his place on the $20.
Interested in seeing some more images of Harriet Tubman in advance of seeing her in your wallet every day? Check out our gallery of historical Harriet Tubman images to learn more about this impressive woman, and start thinking about the nicknames we can give a Tubman $20. A tubby? A harry? How about just slipping a $20 bill to the cashier and asking if they've got change for a hero?