Feminists in Focus: Harriet Tubman

As the world watches with bated breath to see whether the U.S.A. will elect its first female President (or whether it will vote in its first monkey President), another American woman has been making the headlines recently.

Last month, the U.S. Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman was set to replace former President and slave owner Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill (awkwardly, he will still appear on the back), after a campaign started by the feminist organisation, Women on 20s.


How the Tubman $20 bill might look

Born in Maryland between 1820 and 1825, Tubman was one of nine children born to enslaved parents. Stories tell of her mother’s strength and resistance when the family’s white owners came to sell her son, showing the spirit of defiance that ran in Tubman’s blood. She escaped captivity in 1849 with two of her brothers, though they persuaded her to return. A while later, Tubman ran away on her own, and once free, returned as part of the “Underground Railroad” to save her family, and many others, from a life of slavery, leading them north to Canada. These acts of bravery, leading “mah people” out of slavery to the promised free land, earnt her the nickname of “Moses”. She was in contact with some of the most important abolitionists of the time and often spoke at anti-slavery gatherings. Once free, she worked a variety of jobs, from cook to nurse, and even as a scout and a spy in the American Civil War, in which she led raids freeing hundreds more slaves.


Tubman in her Civil War bandana

Her life tells an amazing story of someone refusing to accept their lot, and fighting for the rights and freedoms she believed she deserved the same as anybody else; Tubman believed that all people were equal, regardless of race or gender. And as if her incredible efforts battling the slave trade weren’t enough, she has been chosen as this month’s Feminist in Focus for her advocacy of women’s suffrage in the United States in her later life. She travelled the country speaking up about women’s rights, working alongside well-known suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony, and was the keynote speaker at the first meeting of the National Federation of Afro-American Women. In 1920, seven years after Tubman’s death, women were finally given the vote in the U.S.A.

Whilst the inclusion of a social reformer and feminist on a note is a giant leap forward for womankind (take note, Exchequer), the U.S. Treasury is dragging its feet on implementing the changes. Whilst changes to the other notes already have has their wheels set in motion, it is looking like the $20 won’t be changed until 2030. Women on 20s are fighting for this to come much, much sooner.


Women on 20s'”front burner” campaign

At a time when modern day celebrified “white” feminism often comes under scrutiny for its white-centricity, the addition of Tubman to the $20 bill is a strong reminder that feminism is for everyone. Feminism helps men and women, of all backgrounds and races, and for true gender equality to be achieved we must also be aware of the other factors at play in our  understanding of what we are fighting for. Feminism, like Tubman, is all-inclusive.


Until next month,

~ Sophie



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