Enterprise: Did you keep anything pending in your administration that favors women?
RR: One of the toughest moments occurred in the beginning of my tenure at the Treasury. I found myself in the Historical Resource Center at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Now the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (or BEP) is where we produce American currency. What many people didn’t know was that many of the financial products of the United States government have been produced there since 1862. Everything from postage stamps to certificates of military payments to food stamps and savings bonds. They still provide the security page for US passports.
The Historical Resource Center at BEP is where you find many preserved objects that were made, such as panels, display, design, image concepts and icons that were used in all of those financial products.
At that moment I felt I had come across a treasure trove of fine art. To be sure, many of these were never seen by anyone alive. And after a while, it became amazingly clear: every photo I encountered of a woman was not a real woman. They were allegorical figures. Lady Liberty writes in robes, some without robes, but most of them are symbols without names. However, every picture I found of a man was a real man. Founding Father, Cabinet Member, President, he is always dressed and almost always known. And I woke up.
The purpose of our currency is first and foremost to facilitate trade, but it also serves the purpose of documenting the history of our country. Think about this: in each of our denominations and world currencies you will find a VIP in front of you and a significant monument or building behind you. If this coin aims to institutionalize the history of our newborn country, then why would half of the population be missing?
So I looked a little more and soon discovered that dozens of countries are displaying women in their currencies so why didn’t we have this discussion? I spoke to the BEP team, whom I want to acknowledge as my partners in this mission. I went with director Larry Felix, who informed me there, and part of his management team, to whom I individually asked the same question, “Why didn’t we have a woman in our currency?”
The answer was always the same: no one had mentioned it before.
And for me it was like Newton’s third law. Every action has an equal reaction and an opposite reaction. When I realized what invisible women were in a tool used every day, like the global reserve currency, I knew I needed to change it.
Because it’s not about our currency, it’s about how women are valued in our history, how they affect our present, and most importantly, how they affect our future.
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