There’s a movement to get Andrew Jackson removed from the twenty dollar bill. While I have issues with the general practice of judging people by the values of a different era, it’s not hard to find Pres. Jackson reprehensible enough by any standard to make a change on the $20. Like Jefferson he was a slave owner, but he was far more racist and his crimes and double dealing against Native Americans are well documented. So I’d go further and say that the Democratic Party can do better to honor its beginnings by replacing Jackson in their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners with Martin Van Buren, who was actually more responsible for the modern Democratic Party than Jackson. Old Kinderhook just wasn’t as popular as Old Hickory.
This revision of history coincides with the fine idea of honoring a woman on paper money for the first time. There are many very worthy women in our history. The problem is that none of them is remarkably well known by the public except for maybe Eleanor Roosevelt (yes!) and Rosa Parks (sorry, no!). But my choice, even over Eleanor is Frances Perkins, the first woman cabinet member in U.S. history who served as Secretary of Labor under FDR. This article by David Brooks is actually quite good.
Perkins’s grandmother had told her that when somebody opens a door, you should always walk through. So Perkins confronted FDR with terms if she was to become his labor secretary. If she were to join the cabinet, FDR would have to commit to a broad array of social insurance policies: massive unemployment relief, a giant public works program, minimum wage laws, a Social Security program for old age insurance, and the abolition of child labor. “I suppose you are going to nag me about this forever,” Roosevelt told her. She confirmed she would.
Perkins was one of the most important voices in FDR’s sphere because of her sincere concern for social change. She was a key figure in the enactment of Social Security, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage abolition of child labor, etc. As much as Eleanor, Frances Perkins was FDRs conscience that kept nagging him and pushing him on behalf of the poor and afflicted.
She was, as Kirstin Downey would put it in the title of her fine biography, “The Woman Behind the New Deal.”