Money makes the world go ‘round, and the people that adorn those countless bills and coins go right around with it. The likenesses of rulers and nobles have been printed on money since ancient times. But even across borders and through thousands of years, one thing about currency has remained constant: a relative lack of women. This is changing as more nations introduce money that bears the portraits of female leaders, artists and celebrities. Here are a few that stand out.
Sacagawea – U.S. Dollar coin
The dollar bill may be among the most-used currencies in the world, but when it comes to female representation, the U.S. falls behind. To date, no women have appeared on dollar bills, although Harriet Tubman is slated to be included on the $20 note in the next four years.
Famous American women fare better on coins. One of the best known is Sacagawea1, a historic figure who appears on the dollar coin. She was a Native American of the Shoshone tribe who lived in present-day North Dakota when Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery arrived in the winter of 1804. According to the U.S. National Park Service, Sacagawea was only 17, with newborn baby in tow, when she agreed to guide them through uncharted territory and serve as an interpreter.
It was thanks to Sacagawea that Lewis and Clark finished their expedition on time and without suffering serious injury. As a testament to her importance, an artist interpretation of Sacagawea is printed on the face of the $1 brass coin. The golden hue of the coin is perhaps a way of recognizing that Sacagawea was worth her weight in gold.
Frida Kahlo – Mexican Peso
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is known today for her striking self-portraits, surrealist art and as a feminist icon. But until about 30 years after her death, Kahlo was largely unknown outside of the art world, according to Biography.com.2 Instead, she was simply recognized for her marriage to Diego Rivera, also of Mexico, whose work with murals is widely celebrated.
Kahlo and Rivera’s marriage was tumultuous, however, and just one of a string of relationships that earned her a degree of notoriety. For example, she was briefly involved with such luminaries as Leon Trotsky and Josephine Baker. But her freewheeling lifestyle obscured her own artistic work, which didn’t receive the attention it deserved until well after her death. Today, Kahlo appears on the 500 Peso mark, opposite her famous ex-husband, as a symbol of Mexican national identity and independence.
Fatma Aliye Topuz – Turkish Lira
Having lived in modern-day Turkey the late 19th and early 20th century, Fatma Aliye Topuz is widely regarded as the first female Muslim novelist.3
Topuz’s writing often involved themes surrounding a woman’s place in the conservative Muslim world. Although she was devout in her faith, Topuz also was not afraid to challenge conventional ideas of female identity and independence in a male-dominated culture. She also became known for her work as a humanitarian, founding the first women’s charity in Turkey and volunteering with the Red Crescent. For all of this, Turkey now honors her legacy with a portrait on the 50 Lira bill.
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1National Women’s History Museum. (2020-2022). Retrieved from: https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sacagawea
2(2021, Nov 19). Retrieved from: https://www.biography.com/artists/frida-kahlo
3Neecy. Retrieved from: https://money.allwomenstalk.com/interesting-famous-people-on-banknotes-around-the-world/