A woman on $10 bill: Why just one?

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A display of $10 note currency plates from the past century are seen at a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C., where U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew discussed the redesign of the $10 note to feature a woman and enter circulation in 2020. | T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — Ladies, they are throwing us a bone.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Thursday a woman’s face is going to be on a newly designed $10 note. That’s great.

About time.

In the history of the U.S. — with one single exception — portraits on paper money have only featured men.

A picture of Martha Washington was on $1 notes issued in 1886 and 1891, according to the Treasury Department.

Lew’s decision came as a movement to put a woman on a $20 bill has been gaining steam.

OPINION

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In a July 30, 2014, speech in Kansas City, Missouri, President Barack Obama signaled that the message was getting through. “Last week, a young girl wrote to ask me why aren’t there any women on our currency, and then she gave me like a long list of possible women to put on our dollar bills and quarters and stuff — which I thought was a pretty good idea.”

A grass-roots group, “Women on 20s,” started a petition drive to get a woman on a $20 bill in circulation before the year 2020, the 100th anniversary of the Aug. 18, 1920, ratification of the 19th amendment giving women the vote.

Last April, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced legislation in their respective chambers to compel the Secretary of the Treasury to start asking the public which woman should be on a $20 note.

Lew said he is looking for “a champion for our inclusive democracy” and will make a decision by the end of the year. Starting this summer, Treasury officials will be traveling around holding roundtables, town halls and other meetings to scoop up public input. You can suggest names at thenew10.treasury.gov or via social media using the hashtag #TheNew10.

The new note will be unveiled, but not necessarily in circulation, in 2020.

This is going to be one slow slog.

The main rule is that people pictured on currency have to be dead.

So that would preclude some obvious historic picks — Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, or Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be House speaker.

Pelosi, asked Thursday for her suggestions, said “Francis Perkins, who is the first woman Cabinet officer and the author of Social Security.”

When I saw Gutierrez in the Capitol on Thursday, he said he welcomed Lew’s move though he was “10 dollars off.”

On May 20, Gutierrez said in a speech on the House floor, “In a few years, maybe in a few months, when the idea of putting a woman on our money is considered a quaint, old-fashioned debate, and similarly when the idea of putting a person of color on our money no longer seems like such a remarkable step, we will wonder why it took so long.”

I asked the other members of the Illinois delegation who they would pick. Only Democrats replied. Sen. Dick Durbin told me, “I don’t know how we will narrow it down to one.”

Rep. Danny Davis suggested abolitionist Sojourner Truth. Reps. Robin Kelly and Bobby Rush support an ongoing push for another abolitionist, Harriet Tubman.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky was for Perkins. Suffragist Susan B. Anthony was recommended by Rep. Dan Lipinski. Hull House founder Jane Addams was the choice of Reps. Mike Quigley and Bill Foster.

Rep. Cheri Bustos offered civil rights legend Rosa Parks and famed first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Rep. Tammy Duckworth mentioned Addams, Abigail Adams and Helen Keller.

What’s patronizing is the unstated notion with this contest-like zeal to find the right woman that we get just one woman on one bill.

As Pelosi put it, “You might want to look at some other denominations as well. Why should we be confined to one?”

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