By Susan Ades Stone and Barbara Ortiz Howard
Everybody thought it was a great idea whose time certainly had come. Why hadn’t anyone thought of it before? Or gotten it done by now? “It” was breaking the paper ceiling by lobbying the U.S. Treasury to put a woman’s portrait on an American bank note for the first time in 100 years. “It” was about updating the history lesson in our wallets that completely ignores the significant contributions of half the human race. But after a year of looking for partnerships with women’s organizations or corporate sponsorship to launch “Women On 20s” to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, we were just two more women coming up short. That is, until Jen Jones & Cynthia Hornig, the visionary founders of Women You Should Know, discovered us.
Here were two feminist champions who shared our DNA and our mission of shining a light on women who could inspire us and, indeed, inspire a nation. Their post in February 2015 about our plan to engage the public in choosing a female hero to feature on a redesigned $20 bill helped the campaign catch fire across social media and news outlets both here and abroad. And WYSK didn’t stop there. They kept promoting the cause in print and at meetings and town halls in what some in high positions at the White House called the most effective grass roots public engagement campaign they had ever seen.
Eventually the Treasury Department chose Harriet Tubman to be featured the $20 and two other bills will celebrate other notable women trailblazers on their reverse sides. Millions of people of all ages and walks of life boned up on their women’s history, using websites like ours, the US Treasury’s and WYSK to learn about dozens of unsung heroes who deserve our attention.
And now it’s time to turn the light around and shine it back on Jen and Cynthia, who for seven years have done their work of calling out inequality and elevating women without calling attention to themselves or asking for anything in return. After pouring their own resources into their remarkably successful and important platform, they are taking a hard look at their own balance sheet and realizing they can’t keep going it alone. And why should they? Why should women continually have to sacrifice and make excuses when asking for support? Barbara and I did that and, for sure, it wore us down and cost us dearly in our own pocketbooks. As a community we need to embrace initiatives like WYSK with gratitude for what they have done to support us. We should be showing the next generation of strong women what it looks like to ally with each other and challenge the patriarchic norms that throw obstacles in our paths. Couldn’t we easily forgo a cappuccino today – or maybe every day this week – and send that $5, $25 or more to the cause of keeping WYSK in business for our own enrichment? Imagine if even a fraction of WYSK’s 400,000+ readers did that – what a message it would send.
If Jen and Cynthia fail to tap into a vein of support for the work they do, they plan to shut down their operations by the end of the year. There will be no more insightful features about women battling and winning fights against job discrimination, pay inequality, sexual harassment and challenges to reproductive rights. No more portraits of past and future female disruptors who shape our history and deserve to be recognized for it. No more stories about campaigns like ours that seek to make household names of people like Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, Francis Perkins and so many others.
We at Women On 20s wish we had known Women You Should Know sooner. Now, we just hope they’re around for others to know for many years to come.
About the authors
Susan Ades Stone (right) is an award-winning print and video journalist who has specialized in reporting on environmental and medical issues for CNN, PBS & The World Science Festival. Recently she was instrumental in creating the grassroots campaigns The Proxy Project and BreatheLife in addition to Women On 20s. Follow Susan on Twitter.
Barbara Ortiz Howard (left) is an entrepreneur, heading up her own exterior restoration company for the past 35 years in NYC. When not on a scaffold, she uses her resources to strengthen communities with other local and national organizations. Most recently she founded the Women On 20s organization and campaign and continues to advocate for a change in US currency. Follow Barbara on Twitter.