The $10 Is Not Our First Choice, But It Is Our First Opportunity

America's currency includes a wide range of paper notes, and there have been plenty of notable American women. So there is no excuse for the exclusion of women from U.S. bills. Our money reflects our ideals and values as a nation; it also should reflect our diversity as a people.

For those of us who have campaigned to put a woman on America's paper currency, including more than 600,000 people who signed a grassroots petition, this is an historic moment. After all, our paper currency is much more than something we use to purchase groceries or morning coffee. As Douglass Mudd, director of the Money Museum in Colorado Springs, observes: "Money is still one of the first impressions you get of a nation. Paper money is a great mirror for the nation, as far as what it believes and what it holds dear."

In the 21st century, America's paper money should no longer be a male monopoly. Fortunately, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew agrees. In a surprise announcement June 18, he pledged that the coming redesign of the $10 bill will feature a still-to-be-named woman. The new note will be unveiled in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Instead of joining in the celebration, some have complained: How dare the Treasury remove Alexander Hamilton, hero of the Revolution and founder of our financial system? This ignores the history of America's paper currency, which is in constant flux. Since the $10 note was first introduced in 1861, 12 different men have been featured on the bill at various times, and none were diminished by being moved to a different denomination. Benjamin Franklin was once on the $10 bill; now he is on the $100. Lincoln was moved from the $10 to the $5. Andrew Jackson was moved from the $10 to the $20. Alexander Hamilton can easily be moved to another denomination.

I, too, admire Hamilton. Towns, counties, schools, and colleges have been named in his honor. Statues and monuments celebrate his achievements. An acclaimed Off-Broadway musical explores his life. By all means, he deserves a place of honor on America's paper currency. But the suggestion by Secretary Lew that the women selected for the $10 note might have to share space on the bill with Hamilton is misguided and demeaning.

Many are disappointed that a woman will not be replacing Andrew Jackson on the more frequently used $20 bill. This was the aim of the grassroots campaign, Women on 20s, as well as legislation I introduced earlier this year, the Woman on the Twenty Act. But it is not often that currency is redesigned, and the $10 bill is next up. It could be a decade or more before the $20 is redesigned. So the $10 bill is not our first choice, but it is our first opportunity. And we must seize it.

More important than the denomination is putting an end to denial. Women have contributed equally to America's success, and this should be celebrated on our currency. For the first time in more than a century, girls across the America will see an inspiring woman on U.S. paper currency and know that they, too, can grow up to accomplish great things.

A woman on the $10 bill is a good start, but it is only a start. There are also $1, $2, $5, $20, $50, and $100 notes, and plenty of extraordinary American women. And why wait until 2020 to unveil the new $10, and even longer to see it in circulation? In 2016, it's possible that one or both of America's major parties will nominate a woman for President. Let's also make 2016 the year a woman once again graces America's paper currency.

Sen. Shaheen is the original author of the Women on the Twenty Act