Saturday, September 5, 2015

Jane Addams on the New $10 Bill?

As you probably know, in 2020 the Treasury Department is planning to issue a new $10 bill with the picture of a woman on it. Jane Addams was one name on a list I saw suggesting twenty women worth being considered for that honor. 

Wanting to learn more about her life and work, last month I read Robin K. Berson’s book Jane Addams: A Biography (2004)
Berson tells the fascinating story of Jane, who was born 155 years ago tomorrow (on September 6, 1860) in Illinois near the Wisconsin border about 250 miles (as the crow flies) almost due north of St. Louis. Hers was an upper middle class family, and her father served as a state senator for seven terms. (He was also a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln.)
As a girl and young woman, Jane had various health issues. Further, by the time she was 21, she “felt an overwhelming sense of failure, a despairing purposelessness, a debilitating passivity” (Berson, p. 14).
After several unfruitful years, in 1888 during a visit to England she visited Toynbee Hall, a “settlement” in a poor district in London. That visit sparked her desire to open a similar facility in Chicago—and she did. Hull-House opened its doors in September 1889.
A settlement house is defined as “a center in an underprivileged area that provides community services.” And that is what Hull-House was for more than 120 years. Unfortunately, it closed in 2012.
According to the Chicago Tribune article announcing its closing, “The organization, first formed in 1889, has provided foster care, domestic violence counseling, child development programs and job training to 60,000 children, families and community groups each year.”
Jane Addams died in 1935, but during her 75 years she was involved in far more than helping the poor people of Chicago—although those efforts were certainly praiseworthy. Beginning especially in 1915, and for the rest of her life, she was an untiring opponent of war and advocate for world peace.
Addams presided at the International Congress of Women, which met in The Hague, and was the president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which grew out of that 1915 meeting.
She presided at six congresses of WILPF, and partly for her work with that organization she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931—the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Addams was an untiring supporter of those who were exploited and/or discriminated against. Accordingly, she was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920.
She was also prominently involved in the labor movement and a strong advocate of unions. Because of that kind of activity and advocacy, as well as because of her unwavering pacifism, she came under considerable criticism during the 1920s.
In fact, J. Edgar Hoover went so far as to characterize Addams as “the most dangerous woman in America.”
The Road to Character by the New York Times op-ed writer David Brooks has been one of the bestselling non-fiction books of 2015. In the second chapter Brooks writes appreciatively of the life and work of Jane Addams, highlighting how she “dedicated her life to serving the needy.”
In spite of the criticism by Hoover and others, at the time of her death she was, once again, very high regarded. Although she likely will not be the one selected, Jane Addams is indeed a woman worth being considered for the new $10 bill.


  1. The $20 bill is the one that needs a change of portrait. Andrew Jackson needs to be replaced by somebody else--perhaps some famous American Indian woman such as Sacagawea.

    I’ve checked on line, and apparently the $10 bill is judged to be at a greater threat of being counterfeit than the $20 bill. Thus the $10 bill is the one most in need of redesign in order in enhance its security.

    Maybe the $20 can be next. Let’s start the campaign now for Sacagawea on the $20 bill.

    1. I like Clif's rationale. My original thought was for Crazy Horse since he sought to correct the genocidal ways of Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln (and the legendary killer General Custer, the man Lincoln had sent to clear the plains for the Westward March). Maybe Crazy Horse would be a good alternative for the Five note - but that would certainly find its share of nay-sayers as well. So I agree, Clif - Sacagawea.

      There was a time when I served Jane Addams elementary school, and so I was previously familiar with her. But generally she is unknown. Despite her popularity with some, she would probably be polarizing, or at least divisive. There are many good candidates, both men and women, whose lives have positively changed all, who would be popular and generally acceptable.

      Among women, I still find the first lady Admiral, Grace Hopper, to be an excellent choice. She has certainly changed all of our lives positively, and brought the military into the 20th Century. Many still refer to her as "Amazing Grace". I would love to see her grace the 20.

  2. I would have no problem with Sacagawea on the $10 bill, but I see the poetic justice of her on the 20. I hadn't thought of Jane Addams. Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt--all these IMO would be worthy contenders for the honor.

  3. I like Clif's idea of Sacagewea on the $20. But I also like the idea of Jan Addams on the $10.

  4. Jane Addams would be a good choice, but I think I would have to give my choice to Eleanor Roosevelt. She served as the eyes and ears for FDR as she was able to travel much more among the people, and she had her finger in plenty of her own "pies" as well. A great American woman!

  5. Sacagawea is already on the $1 coin, I believe, although no one uses them, and I don't even know whether they're minted anymore. Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt--all good choices in my view. There's no reason I know of why a bill couldn't have more than one person on it. In any case, I think we need to get Andrew Jackson of the $20.

    1. Franklin was on both the Half Dollar coin and the $100 bill. Should be no problem with double-dipping. And Sacajawea would bring poetic justice to the $20, as stated above.

    2. And of course Washington and Lincoln are on both coin and bill.

  6. Although politically incorrect, indulge me to also promote Dolly Madison, our first female Secretary of State, or Ladybird Johnson who cleaned up our roadways with a movement to once again make us America the Beautiful. Either for the $10. (But I still most favor Adm. Hopper.)

    1. It was Dolley's husband, James Madison, who was Secretary of State from 1801 to 1809. He went from that position to become the fourth POTUS.

      The first female Cabinet member was Frances Perkins, who served as the Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. She was one of the 20 on the list I referred to at the beginning of the article.

  7. I just now saw that in May of this year a book by Erik Schneiderhan was published under the title "The Size of Others' Burdens: Barack Obama, Jane Addams, and the Politics of Helping Others."

  8. Not well known, but my vote goes to Barbara McClintock. Here are some reasons:

  9. Probably before seeing the other comments here, Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, sent the following comments:

    "Jane Addams would be a great choice to be on our currency, although I would prefer to replace Andrew Jackson, who adorns the $20 bill, rather than Alexander Hamilton, whose likeness appears on the $10. Jackson was something of a jerk (e.g., consider how he treated Native Americans); there are a number of outstanding American women, any one of whom would be a great replacement for Jackson.

    "Other possibilities include Sojourner Truth, Rosy Parks, or even Eleanor Roosevelt. But I would certainly be satisfied with Jane Addams, a Chicagoan, as I am now."