To choose a heroine

April 17, 2015

Other News

Today I voted. For a woman.

Today I joined the movement “Woman on 20s,” which is encouraging the president to have a woman’s face replace Andrew Jackson’s on the $20 bill.

I was taken by this idea for the same reason as hundreds of thousands of Americans—It’s time. As women have become more and more present in society, it’s time for women to be represented on our currency. Also, two of the final four candidates greatly appeal to me as heroines, albeit for two very different reasons.

Between March 1 and April 5, “Women on 20s” invited Americans to vote for their choice of 15 female candidates to appear on the $20 bill. The candidates were chosen by a panel based on their impact on American society and the difficulties they faced to accomplish these goals. More than 256,000 votes were cast. Each candidate earned at least 10,000 votes, and the top three earned more than 100,000 each. The contest is down to four candidates: Wilma Mankiller (first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation), Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman.

I have to tell you, I was thrilled to see that Harriet Tubman made the shortlist. She has long been one of my favorite historical figures. When I was in elementary school, I went through a period where all I would read were books about slavery and the Underground Railroad. I wrote multiple essays (don’t tell my teachers) on Harriet Tubman’s life and work. Years have passed, and I am still so inspired by her willingness to put her own freedom on the line in order to help others win theirs. Tubman was born with so many disadvantages and overcame them all to become a true heroine.

And yet, I feel conflicted. I owe a personal debt of gratitude to Eleanor Roosevelt. I don’t know if I’d be alive if not for her personal intervention in saving my grandmother from the clutches of the holocaust.

In October 1940, my grandmother, Fannie Safrin Gottlieb, along with her mother and four siblings (her father had already been murdered in Buchenwald) was deported from Manheim, Germany to Camp de Gurs, in France. Soon after arriving at the camp, Bubby’s mother passed away. The five orphans were rescued from the camp by the OSE (A Jewish Social Services Organization) and transported to an orphanage called Chateau de Chabannes, where they were hidden from the Nazis. Within a few months, they received word that they had secured two spots on a children’s transport to America. Having already lost their parents, the Safrin siblings made a decision: they would not allow their family to be split any further. They told their would-be rescuers “It’s all or none.” The organizers of the transport felt it unfair to save five children from one family, since they could not be sure that the other families would have any survivors. When Eleanor Roosevelt heard of this predicament, she hit upon the idea of a Collective Visa- My grandmother and her siblings were the first recipients of this visa! This story appeared in The Forward on July 6, 1941.

This is how I came to be sitting at my computer in Norfolk, Va. in 2015, trying to decide if I’d rather see Harriet Tubman or Eleanor Roosevelt every time I go to the ATM.

I won’t tell you what choice I made, but I will encourage you to go to www.womenon20s.org and cast your vote for an American heroine to represent all American women on our currency.

by Chamie Haber

Letter to the Editor