Who are the Women on the World’s Currency?

One-hundred and twenty-nine years ago, Martha Washington was featured on the US $1 silver certificate.

As the United States Treasury Department decides what notable female figure should replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, the rest of the world, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico has far outpaced the US in commemorating notable historic heroines on their currency.

Who are the notable women on the world’s currency? Click through the slider below to see who they are:

  • Elizabeth Fry, 19th century social reformer is on the British ten pound note.

Since 2012, Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker philanthropist and prison reformer, has graced the British five pound note. Fry fought for changes to jails after visiting Newgate Goal in 1813. She was outraged at the overcrowded dungeon-like conditions where women and men were unsegregated. Her efforts and testimony to the House of Common led to structural improvements and separate cells were created. Her campaign to reform prisons was not contained to England, but she traveled across Europe championing her cause.

This is not the first time a women appeared on British money, and it won’t be the last. In the 1990’s, the Crimean war nurse Florence Nightingale was the face of the five pound bill. Also, starting in 2017, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility will cover the ten pound note.

Also more progressive in its currency design is Mexico. In 2010, Mexico began featuring a treasured pair of artists – the painter Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera on its 500 Peso bill. This is not the first time that a women was highlighted on Mexican paper money. In the 1970’s, a nun and Baroque poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, who lived over 300 years ago, was honored on the 200 Pesos bill.

While that is impressive, Australia surpasses other countries in including women on currency. Currently featured is turn-of-the-century soprano Dame Nellie Melba on the front of the $100 note,  politician and social worker Edith Cowan on the back of the $50, 19th-century businesswoman Mary Reibey on the front of the $20, social reformer and writer Dame Mary Gilmore on the back of the $10, and Queen Elizabeth II on the front of the $5 bill.

Queen Elizabeth is also featured on New Zealand currency, and starting in 1999, Kate Shephard — the most famous Kiwi suffragette — has been the face of its ten dollar bill. New Zealand was the first country to extend voting rights to all adult citizens and Kate Shephard’s impact on women’s equality extends across the globe.

Imago_Europae_euronis (1)

Portrait of Europa

There are many more countries that have featured prominent women on their banknotes.  Argentina, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, Poland, the Philippians, Sweden and Syria all have honored notable female leaders, artists, writers, and reformers on their bills. Even the new €20 has a portrait of a women on it. It is the mythological Phoenician princess, Europa,  and this is fitting as the continent of Europe is named after her.

The US once featured a woman on a banknote. First Lady Martha Washington was the face of the $1 silver certificates – an obsolete form of currency issued between 1878 and 1964. Martha Washington was featured on three bills printed in 1886, 1891, and 1896.

Let’s hope it’s not another one-hundred and twenty-nine years before another US historic heroine finally makes an appearance.

About Kristen LePine
KRISTEN LEPINE is the co-founder and Executive Director of Historic Heroines. An accomplished writer, educator and mother, Kristen is often inspired by history and current events. She wrote about Nellie Bly and mental health care in CRACKED POTS, a play commissioned by Theatre J in Washington DC. Currently she is working on a historical novel set in ancient Sparta. Visit her at www.kristenlepine.com.
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