CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) – In a few years when Sofia gets her first chance to spend a redesigned $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman, the Massachusetts fifth-grader can take some extra pride in knowing the role she played in getting the first woman portrayed on U.S. paper currency in more than a century.
Sofia, whose family asked that her full name not be used, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama after noticing the lack of women on U.S. currency while working on a class project.
“It makes things feel fair,” Sofia said Thursday.
On Wednesday – her 11th birthday – she received phone calls from U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and other officials informing her of the decision to put Tubman, an African-American abolitionist, on the front of the $20 bill and feature other women on other bills.
“If women do important things just like men, women should be on our currency too, and once that happens it’s going to be amazing,” Sofia said in an interview with the Associated Press at her Cambridge home.
Her letter to Obama in 2014 read in part: “I am writing to know why there aren’t more women on dollars/coins for the United States. I think there should be more women on the dollars/coins of the United States because if there were no women there wouldn’t be men.”
At the bottom of the letter, Sofia suggested a dozen names that could fit the bill, including Tubman’s. Tubman was born into slavery and, after escaping, helped other slaves gain freedom through what became known as the Underground Railroad.
Sofia also listed civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, poet Emily Dickinson and first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. senator, secretary of state and current presidential candidate.
Sofia did not hear back right away, but a few months later the family heard that Obama had referenced a letter from a “Massachusetts girl” in a speech and wondered if it was her. It turned out that it was, and in February 2015 a letter arrived from the White House from Obama thanking Sofia for writing to him “with such a good idea.” The women she suggested were an impressive group, “and I must say you’re pretty impressive too,” the letter stated.
While Tubman wasn’t the only famous woman Sofia offered, she is very happy with the choice. What impressed her so much in learning about Tubman was that she not only escaped from slavery, but risked her life to help others do the same.
Sofia’s proud mom, Kim, said her daughter is concerned about the world, “but I think the part of the story I like the best is that she really is just an average, typical little girl who noticed something that was unfair in the world and she decided to do something about it.”
Sofia said she does not have plans for politics herself in the future, and instead hopes to become a scientist. For now she is enjoying a heartfelt wish that has come true.
“I was really excited and to have it happen on my birthday, it was the best birthday present ever,” she said.
The new $20s are expected to go into circulation in 2020, with Tubman replacing the portrait of Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president and a slave owner, who is being pushed to the back of the bill.
The last woman featured on U.S. paper money was Martha Washington, who was on a dollar silver certificate from 1891 to 1896.