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Smithsonian Hosts Roundtable Discussion with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Historians on U.S. Currency Redesign

National Museum of American History is home to the National Numismatic Collection
August 7, 2015

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History hosted a roundtable discussion on Aug. 5, convened by Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, United States Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew and Museum Director John Gray. The meeting brought together a diverse group of historians, numismatists and academics to participate in an informal conversation with Secretary Lew on the recent announcement that the new $10 bill will depict a historic female figure. 

Secretary Lew discussed that the $10 bill, the first in a family of notes undergoing a redesign, will feature the theme of democracy and noted that for the first time in more than a century, U.S. paper currency will feature the portrait of a woman. Secretary Lew reiterated that the invaluable contributions women have made to the country and history should be reflected in our paper currency. He solicited feedback from participants on the redesign process and sought their recommendations and ideas for the next generation of currency.

“The nation’s history museum was the appropriate location for this meeting,” said Gray. We are the home to the world-class National Numismatic Collection consisting of 1.6 million objects which serves at the foundation of the recently opened “Value of Money” exhibition; and in 2017 the museum will open an exhibition examining the themes of democracy and the nation “we” make together.”

“The decision by the Department of the Treasury to depict a woman on the new U.S. $10 note has provoked a historic discussion about who should be depicted on currency and to what extent decisions about currency design should be influenced by public opinion,” said Ellen Feingold, curator of the museum’s numismatic collection.

Whichever historic female figure is selected, she will not be the first woman to appear on our national paper currency: Martha Washington is featured on the $1 silver certificates issued in 1886, 1891, and 1896, and Pocahontas appears on the $20 national bank note issued in 1865.

The Aug. 5 meeting participants included:

•  Ellen Feingold, curator, National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History

•  Terry Bouton, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

•  Holly Brewer, University of Maryland

•  Jon Butler, Yale University

•  Catherine Clinton, University of Texas San Antonio

•  Cheryl Greenberg, Trinity College

•  Jim Grossman, American Historical Association

•  Jane Kamensky, Harvard University

•  Kim Kellison, Baylor University

•  Alan Kraut, American University

•  Bill Maurer, University of California, Irvine

•  Arwen Mohun, University of Delaware

•  Michael O'Malley, George Mason University

•  Andrew Shiva, National Currency Foundation

            Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.