Financial History Issue 118 (Summer 2016) | Page 25

Idealized African women at a market on a 1,000 franc note , French Equatorial Africa ( modern Central and Western Africa ), 1963 .
Peace depicted on a $ 10 dollar Treasury note , United States of America , 1864 .
More often than historic women , idealized , allegorical and mythological female figures have appeared on money as symbols of ideals , values and beliefs . They are effective tools of communication for governments because they can convey meaningful , and sometimes complicated , concepts on small and familiar objects . As an alternative to depicting potentially divisive political leaders , allegorical figures can promote a sense of national unity around a shared idea , such as freedom .
Thus , many nations depict the idea of freedom as the female figure Lady Liberty . She has appeared on American coinage in a variety of poses and styles since the US Mint produced its first coins in 1792 . Justice , victory and peace are also conveyed through the female form on notes and coins .
Many nations also include images of idealized women on their money , communicating national ideals and conveying the essential roles that women play in the marketplace , home and community . Some countries even personify the nation itself as a woman . For example , Great Britain uses the figure Britannia as the allegorical representation of the British nation . She is typically depicted as a protective figure with a trident and shield and appears on both British coins and notes .
In addition , some nations , both in ancient history and the present , depict female mythological and religious figures in an effort to encourage a particular set of religious beliefs , or to promote a feeling of shared cultural heritage .
When America ’ s new $ 5 , $ 10 and $ 20 notes enter circulation , the women they depict will take their places alongside the many women who have appeared on money over the last two millennia . The new notes will not only commemorate their contributions to the nation , but also serve as evidence of the historic national conversation in 2015 and 2016 about the role of American women in US and world history — and a reminder of the many women that are still deserving of such an honor .
Liberty depicted on the $ 20 “ 1933 Double Eagle ” coin , United States of America , 1933 .
Ellen Feingold is the curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution ’ s National Museum of American History . She recently curated “ Women on Money ” and “ The Value of Money .” Both exhibits are open to the public indefinitely . This article first appeared on the National Museum of American History ’ s blog , O Say Can You See , at americanhistory . si . edu / blog .
www . MoAF . org | Summer 2016 | FINANCIAL HISTORY 23