11 Women’s Faces on National Currency

What does the color and content of currency say about a country? What are the symbols we hold most dear? Who are our heroes? If we look at the banknotes of the United States, we see former presidents; Washington and Jefferson and founders like Franklin and Hamilton. All male, all Caucasian, all long gone. By our tradition, it seems that white men hold the power and the cash.

Before I traveled outside the US, I thought our currency no different that any other. However, fortunately around the world, images of women are on currency in many nations. In Spanish speaking South America, out of 7 countries, 6 have portraits of women on their bills.

We’ll start with the outlier. In Ecuador there were no women on the last currency before 2000, and they now use US dollars! So, none and none.

Now we’ll continue alphabetically:
1) Argentina: 100 pesos; María Eva Duarte de Perón, first lady of Argentina 1946–1952.

100 Pesos Argentina Evita Perón Source: Numista.com

2) Bolivia: 20 bolivianos; Genoveva Ríos, 14-year-old heroine from the war between Bolivia and Chile in 1879, (also features Tomás Katar and Pedro Ignacio Moiba.)

20 Bolivanos Photo: http://www.Banknotes.com

3) 100 bolivianos; Juana Azurduy de Padilla, Lieutenant Colonel of the Bolivian army in the fight for independence. (Also features: Alejo Calatayud and Antonio José de Sucre.)

100 Bolivianos Source: Banco Central de Bolivia

4) Chile: 5000 pesos Gabriela Mistral, first Latin American writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945.

5000 Pesos Chile, Gabriela Mistral Source: Banco Central de Chile

5) Colombia: 2000 pesos Débora Arango, Modern Expressionist Artist.

2000 Pesos, Colombia Débora Arango Source: Numista.com

and 6) 10000 pesos; Virginia Gutierrez de Piñeda, Anthropologist who researched the family in Colombia.

10000 Pesos, Colombia, Virginia Gutierrez de Piñeda Source: Numista.com

7 and 8) Paraguay; 2000 Guaraníes, Adela and Celsa Speratti, two Paraguayan sisters who were involved in forming the educational system.

2000 Guaraníes Banco Central del Paraguay Source: Banco Central de Paraguay

9) Peru: 200 Nuevos Soles, Santa Rosa de Lima, Patron saint of Lima, Virreinato del Perú, 1586–1617, devout Dominican nun famed for saving Lima, Perú from a Dutch pirate attack in 1615, with her prayers.

200 Nuevos Soles, Santa Rosa de Lima Source: Banco Central de Perú

10) Venezuela: 20 and 5000 bolívar fuerte. Luisa Cáceres de Arismendi Venezuelan patriot in the War of Independence.

5000 Bolivares of Venezuela Luisa Cáceres de Arismendi Source: Numista.com

11) Uruguay: 1000 pesos Juana de Ibarbourou, called “Juana de América,” feminist poet.

1000 Pesos from Uruguay, Juana de Ibarbourou. Source: Numista.com

Not only politicians, but heroines of battles of independence, poets, an artist, a saint, educators and an anthropologist are featured on the currency of Spanish-speaking Latin America. That shows a very different focus from the bills in the United States.

In the US, we once had Martha Washington on the one silver dollar bill long ago in 1886. We’ve had women’s faces on one dollar coins, like the Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony, that were confusingly and ill-advisedly the same size as quarters. This decade, the United States government is talking about Harriet Tubman on our $20. I look forward to the day the bill honoring her is dispensed from every ATM nationwide.

Which famous or not famous people are on your country’s legal tender?

Thanks for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

37 thoughts on “11 Women’s Faces on National Currency

  1. A very important post. You beat to the finish line. Few countries have women on their banknotes. I have the Deborah Arango bill somewhere. In Mexico, if I recall there’s only Sor Juana. And you can further the analysis, looking at the ages. Here, there are no “modern” heroes…
    PS, did you get that form an accredited site? (Incomplete digital copies) I started photoshopping some banknotes for a post, and the software said: that’s a banknote, I will not process it)
    Thanks for the post. Buen día.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your commentary and compliment. There also was the Kahlo/Rivera bill in Mexico until recently. In the Americas it seems the majority of the countries have famous women featured on their currency. I will look again to make sure the photos check out. Gracias!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Such an important conversation to have. Hope it is a watershed for policy and thought. We watched My Fair Lady, with Prof. Higgins last weekend, I’ve been working on a rhyme that mirrors Rain in Spain in Miss Higgins and every Jane’s honor:
        The shame’s Jane’s pain is mainly mansplained.
        Best wishes for change at the highest (and lowest) levels.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like the countries of South America are way more ahead in their progressivism than their US counterpart! I did hear of the addition of Harriet Tubman to the $20 bill some time ago, but alas, it hasn’t happened yet…hopefully, we’ll rise to the occasion and put at least of our many female heroes on our bills and coins someday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, Rebecca. The bill honoring Tubman has been discussed for a while. Sounds like the new administration is serious about moving it forward. Once the Covid situation has been tamed by vaccines, I hope this important change will be made!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Michele. I remember seeing my first Canadian quarter as a child living in Minnesota. It rocked my world to see a woman on their currency, and sparked political questions; the Queen? Canada? I look forward to having more women’s history at our fingertips.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is awesome. Absolutely! At our fingertips and from your fingertips. 😄 I am going to share another strong woman-inspired post tomorrow. 💪🏻 Thank you smart and strong woman!

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  3. Great examples, Rebecca! If you didn’t already know, your neighbor to the north has had a black woman on their 🇨🇦 $10 bill since late-2018. Her name is Viola Desmond whose act of defiance predates Rosa Parks’ own important action. Desmond is the 1st civilian woman and the 1st black person to appear on Canadian currency.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Henry for your comments. I admit I did not know about the Viola Desmond currency or her history. I appreciate the information! Good to learn about another Black pioneer for Civil Rights, in our northern neighbor.

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  4. British notes had Florence Nightingale (a founder of modern nursing) for a while, then the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry then the writer Jane Austen. Rather paltry collection I feel — 12 men, 3 women.

    I’m going to look up those South American women, it looks like there are some great stories there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Kim. Your paltry collection would be our shining glory, to feature at least 3 women on our currency in recent history! Yes, one sentence couldn’t do any of these ladies justice, glad you’re interested in pursuing their biographies. 🙂 A related post is about Rafaela Herrera, Nicaraguan war hero.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Cemile. It’s great that writer and women’s rights activist Fatma Aliye is on the 50 Turkish lira bill since 2009! Thanks for emailing me the link so I could see her on the currency. I wonder when the US will honor a woman writer in this way, hope it is this century.

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  5. South America seems to be doing better than the UK. We have Florence Nightingale (nursing pioneer), Elizabeth Fry (prison reform) and Jane Austen (writer). So unless you count the women depicted in the audience at a lecture by Michael Faraday on the £20 note – that’s it.

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    1. In terms of female representation on currency, including the Queen herself as well, you are far ahead of the US. The South American countries listed have one or two women featured, so you’re holding your own. Thank you for your comments, Margaret!

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  6. Lovely post Rebecca. Here in New Zealand we’re part of the British Commonwealth, so have Queen Elizabeth on one side of all our coins and on our $20 bill. Ho hum. But we have managed to get with the programme a little by putting Kate Sheppard on our $10. She was one of the key figures in the Women’s Suffrage movement which saw NZ become the first country in the world to extend voting rights to women, in 1893. Way more worthy of recognition than a hereditary monarch, but that’s just me!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I wish the people in charge of our currency would get off their a*# and make some changes in ours. Too many old white guys who have been honored long enough. The more I learn about the history of some of them, it’s past time to change our currency and start recognizing women and minorities. There are some very interesting people in their ranks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Larry. Glad you feel ready for a currency change too. I wonder what influences the treasury choices about currency; the president, the cabinet, the senate? Who could we write letters to in order to work on this?

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  8. Great post, Rebecca! I, too, can’t wait to see the ATMs spitting out $20 Harriet Tubman bills! The US is lagging far behind so many other countries when it comes to acknowledging women — but I don’t have to tell you that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Janet. From my friend Trina’s research in the last few days and my own, we’ve discovered that at least 1/3 of the currencies internationally feature named women. To me it seems an important symbol of equality to feature on our money as well.

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  9. What an informational post! I had no idea that women decorated the currency of so many countries. Makes you think about how far America has to still come as a country, but with our new VP, we’re on our way!

    Liked by 1 person

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