Earlier this year, the US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that a woman will be featured in the redesign of the $10 bill. The announcement marks the first time in more than a century that a woman will appear on a US bill, and the decision comes after months of campaigning by advocates such as the Woman on 20s organization, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and the 600,000 participants of an online public vote.
The decision as to who exactly will be featured is still up for debate, but Lew has stated that the redesign of the bill will run with the theme of democracy and the woman chosen must be “a champion for our inclusive democracy."
General suggestions so far have included Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Wilma Mankiller, but there are many other stand-out women, Irish-Americans among them, who are equally worthy of sharing the $10 note with Alexander Hamilton.
We look at some of the most prominent Irish-American women who we feel should be considered.
1. Mary Harris (“Mother Jones”)
Once described as “the most dangerous woman in America,” Mother Jones was a leading labor activist born in Co. Cork. The most famous female labor leader of the 19th century, she battled throughout her 100 years for children’s and workers' rights.
Despite losing her husband and her four children to the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in 1867, and then losing everything she owned in the great Chicago fire of 1871, Jones turned to the Knights of Labor and dedicated her life to improving life for working people.
A major influence on Irish republican and socialist leader James Connolly, Jones was involved in the great railroad strike of 1877 in Pittsburgh and the strikes that led to the Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886. She also wrote “The New Right” in 1899 and the two-volume “Letter of Love and Labor” in 1900 and 1901, before concentrating her efforts on miners. She then became an organizer for the United Mine Workers’ Union of America and marched in Coxey’s unemployed army in 1894.
At a remarkable 83 years of age, she was imprisoned and sentenced to 20 years in jail (although eventually pardoned) for her roles in strikes in West Virginia and continued to actively organize miners right into her 90s.
Unfortunately, if we look to her commitment for complete democracy, as is required of the person to feature on the bill, Mother Jones may fall short of modern American standards. A rival of the suffragettes, her Catholic beliefs meant that she felt a woman’s place was in the home and that there was no need to award women the right to vote. Despite this, Jones was an extremely influential and powerful Irish woman who strove to ensure adequate rights for many American people.
2. Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, whose father was of Irish descent, is a 20th century American painter known as the “Mother of American Modernism.” She is best known for her painting of enlarged flowers and southwestern landscapes.
She worked for over seven decades and is credited with playing a pivotal role in the development of American modernism, aiming to capture an object’s power in her work through abstracting the natural world.
Although she didn’t follow any specific artistic movement, O'Keeffe incorporated the techniques of other artists into her own pieces, such as the work of photographer Paul Strand. She adapted Strand’s technique of cropping his photographs into her paintings by choosing uniquely American objects and painting them in an extremely detailed yet abstract manner.
One of her most important pieces is Petunia No.2 (1924) in which she magnifies the flower in order to properly display its shape and color, a theme that would become common throughout her career.
3. Flannery O'Connor
Despite living to just 39 years of age, Flannery O'Connor is regarded as one of the best authors of short stories of the 20th century. O'Connor's short stories were centered around the themes of religion and southern life.
She was was born in Georgia in 1925 into two of Georgia’s oldest Catholic families. She is regarded as one of the strongest apologists for Roman Catholicism in the 20th century. She once said that her work portrays the soul’s struggle with the "stinking mad shadow of Jesus" and she is famous for the way in which her work shows great literary irony and a connection between language and religious belief.
O’Connor was so intensely shy, however, that after time in Yaddo, Saratoga, and New York City, she found comfort by taking residence in the garage apartment of Sally and Robert Fitzgerald in Ridgefield, CT. Here she was afforded the balance between solitude and communion (the Fitzgeralds were devout Catholics) that O’Connor felt she needed to be at her most successful creatively.
Her safe haven was taken from her, however, when she was stricken with lupus, the incurable, autoimmune disease, and forced to return to the central Georgia town of Milledgeville where she resided from 1951 until her death in 1964.
O’Connor’s work was intended to shock. She used violence and her dark sense of humor to draw attention to the need for her audience to understand her belief in the fall of humanity and its need for redemption. She refused to back down, maintaining her disdain for the way in which the world around her was becoming increasingly secular. She placed a great deal of emphasis on the concepts of original sin, guilt, and alienation.
4. Margaret Mitchell
Author of the legendary “Gone with the Wind,” Margaret Mitchell was a daughter of a suffragist of Irish-Catholic ancestry.
As a child, Mitchell had always been intrigued by stories of the Civil War and this stayed with her into adulthood.
While bedridden with a broken ankle, her husband, editor John Marsh, brought her history book after history book to keep her mind occupied while she was no longer writing her weekly column for the Atlanta Journal.
As she quickly made her way through the books, he finally asked her “Why don’t you write your own?” prompting her to begin on the manuscript that would eventually become the Pulitzer-winning 1936 novel.
A Harris poll of American readers in 2014 found that “Gone with the Wind” is the second most popular book in the US, bested only by the Bible. The book also led to one of the most popular and celebrated movies of all time featuring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
“Gone with the Wind” was not Mitchell’s only contribution to society, however. The success of her only published book left her financially secure enough to engage in several philanthropic endeavors. She gave money to several social service organizations in Atlanta, and established medical scholarships for Morehouse College students.
Mitchell also led war bond drives to raise money for the replacement of the shipwrecked U.S.S Atlanta during the during the Second World War, raising $65 million in only 60 days.
5. Dorothy Day
Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Dorothy Day was described by historian David O’Brien as “the most important, interesting, and influential figure in the history of American Catholicism.”
The journalist, social activist and devout Catholic was a driving force behind the establishment of the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that worked to create autonomous communities of Catholics based on the concept of charity and established special homes to help those in need. The movement still follows the precepts laid down by Day: accepting voluntary poverty, carrying out direct action on behalf of the worker and the poor, and leading a life of absolute nonviolence and pacifism.
Forever a champion of the poor, Day was frequently regarded as a radical and often arrested for her protests against war and injustice.
In 2000, the Vatican announced that they were beginning the process of of working towards her canonization and she is currently referred to as a Servant of God. In 2012, the case submitted by the Archdiocese of New York earned the approval of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
6. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a labor leader activist and a feminist who was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World.
Born in Concord, NH to Irish immigrants and nationalists, Flynn was just 16 years old when she gave her first speech entitled “What Socialism will do for Women” in the Harlem Socialist Club. From a young age, her parents introduced her to socialism and she was determined to alter her family's situation throughout her life. Flynn was even expelled from high school for her political activities
Organizing strikes across the country, she was a firm opponent of World War I but her main concerns were women’s rights and suffrage and she was a prominent figure in the fight for woman's rights and birth control.
In 1936, she joined the Communist Party and rose through the ranks until she was appointed chairwoman in 1961.
Flynn ran for Congress in New York in 1942, but in 1951 she was arrested for violating the Alien Registration Act (also known as the Smith Act, which in 1940 criminalized advocacy of the overthrowing of the US government and introduced a requirement for all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government). Day was found guilty and served five years in a women’s penitentiary.
Flynn spent much time in the Soviet Union upon her release and when she died there, she was afforded a State funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people in attendance.
7. Sandra Day O'Connor
Unfortunately, Sandra Day O'Connor was born in March 1930 and doesn’t technically qualify to feature on a US bill, as candidates must be deceased. However, as she was the first woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, we felt that O’Connor deserved the recognition anyway.
Prior to her appointment to the US Supreme Court O’Connor had served as an elected official and judge in Arizona, as the first female Majority Leader in the United States when she was leader of the Republicans in the Arizona state senate.
Appointed to the Court by Ronald Reagan in 1981, she worked as an associate justice until her retirement in 2006. A Republican and moderate conservative, she was a key swing vote in many important cases during her 24 years of service. Such cases included the upholding of Roe v Wade, a landmark decision by the US Supreme Court on the issue of abortion.
She was also the deciding voice in the case of Bush v Gore in the 2000 presidential election, casting the vote that determined the winner of Florida’s electoral vote.
Which Irish-American woman would you like to see featured on a $10 bill? Let us know in the comments section below. Suggestions can also be officially made at https://thenew10.treasury.gov/.