I understand why she’s a contender. I understand that she’s a liberal and feminist icon, I understand that she was a champion of human rights and an influential diplomat at the UN, I understand that she redefined the position of First Lady to give it a political resonance it hadn’t had before. But maybe, if the goal here is to break men’s stranglehold on the currency, we shouldn’t start with someone whose appearance on the $10 will ensure that nearly every conversation about it begins this way: “Isn’t her husband much more deserving?” Because he is, you know. Like him or not.
I’m going to chalk this unfortunate result up to senior-citizen nostalgia and name recognition and hope that America eventually concludes that putting a president’s wife on the money maybe isn’t the greatest tribute to female empowerment.
Released on Wednesday, results from a Marist poll show that 27 percent of those surveyed would choose Mrs. Roosevelt. Harriet Tubman, the African-American abolitionist, was the second choice, with 17 percent. Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who served as a translator and guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition, garnered 13 percent of the vote.
A New York Times obituary for Mrs. Roosevelt in 1962 described her as an energetic first lady to Franklin D. Roosevelt — her personality was both a strength and a burden, and, at first, her liveliness prompted criticism and jokes. Over the years, through her involvement with the United Nations and her work for civil rights, admiration for her deepened.
“She had become not only the wife and widow of a towering President,” the obituary read, “but a noble personality in herself.”
You can skim the crosstabs here; Roosevelt’s strongest support, at 37 percent, comes from — ta da — voters aged 60 or over. She leads Harriet Tubman, a superior choice, in every demographic and sub-demographic except two, voters aged 30-44 and African-Americans. I’m surprised that Amelia Earhart doesn’t do better, actually: She may well be the most recognized woman of the choices offered among younger voters, but her best showing in any group is 17 percent (with tea-party supporters). Roosevelt’s worst showing is 19 percent (with blacks).
Maybe part of the reason for Roosevelt’s support is the unspoken assumption that the currency should be reserved for influential heads of state and other former high-ranking government officials. That leaves the pickings mighty slim if you’re intent on featuring a woman. Eleanor Roosevelt may well be the closest thing America has to a beloved woman former president — for now. At a moment when America is poised to hand the presidency to someone whose greatest accomplishment was marrying well, maybe it’s fitting that FDR’s better half, rather than FDR himself, ends up on the money.
Speaking of which, via the Standard, here’s the future inhabitant of the $20 trying on her southern accent again at an event in South Carolina. Exit question: If Oprah had been one of the choices in this poll, she’d probably win, right?