I Declare After All the Women in History, Jane Austen Isn’t the Best for a Banknote

Is Austen the ideal face to be replacing Darwin on the £10 note? What about the forgotten women of history? My thoughts on providing equal representation on our currency.

Jane Austen is due to replace Charles Darwin as the historical figure on the British £10 note. Whilst I respect Austen’s undeniable talent as an author, I feel the choice of her smacks of tokenism. There are countless other women who have been downtrodden in history who’s achievements have come in fields dominated by men.

I then had a thought – why is there only one variety of each note in circulation? Why couldn’t we have equal representation by having two versions – one with a notable man from history and another with a woman who had similar success in that field, a woman history forgot?

£5 – Elizabeth Fry and John Howard

The £5 is the only British note in circulation to currently depict a woman – Elizabeth Fry. Fry was a driving force behind the introduction of legislation which brought about the humane treatment of prisoners serving custodial sentences.

John Howard similarly fought for the humane treatment of prisoners. He fought for improvements to penal institutions to maintain prisoners’ physical and mental well-being.  He found to ensure prisoners had access to an adequate water supply along with a healthy diet.

Elizabeth Fry is to be replaced by Winston Churchill in 2016 (when Austen will be making her appearance on the £10 note), so really Austen’s appearance will only maintain the current status quo.

£10 – Charles Darwin and Rosalind Franklin

As far as I’m concerned, Darwin’s contribution to scientific advancement cannot be argued with. He introduced the concept of evolution and survival of the fittest to a society still relying on the religious explanation of where the creatures of Earth have come from.

Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to scientific advancement has been largely ignored. She is the unsung hero of the discovery of DNA. Franklin’s X-ray images of the double helix provided the data that Francis Crick and James Watson used to make their hypothesis on its structure. She died of ovarian cancer at 37, just four years before the Nobel prize was claimed by her contemporaries.

£20 – Adam Smith and Joan Robinson

Adam Smith is another unremarkable inclusion on British currency. Although a controversial idea (something I don’t agree with myself), the theory of free market economics has shaped this country to the economic state in which it currently resides. Take it as you will, but his effect on the British economy is undeniable, therefore it is only right that his image be on the currency he has shaped.

Joan Robinson was also an economist who contributed to British economic history. She contributed her name to an economic growth model, and wrote numerous works on economic theory.  Finally, four years before she died, she became the first female fellow at King’s College, Cambridge.

£50 – Matthew Boulton & James Watt and Caroline Haslett & Amy Johnson

Matthew Boulton and James Watt were pioneers in the engineering industry, Watt being the inventor of the of the steam engine with a separate condenser. The business the partnership created also nurtured a lot of engineering talent at the time.

Sadly, there haven’t really been any women who’ve had the same effect on the engineering industry in a partnership as Boulton and Watt. However Caroline Haslett stands out as a female face in an overwhelmingly male field. She was a pioneer of electricity in the home, as she helped women escape from the drudgery of housewifery (obviously it’s not for everyone). An electrical engineer and campaigner, she was the first Secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society as well as first Director of the Electrical Association for Women. Caroline Haslett Trivia – Her dying wish was that she be cremated by electricity.

As there are two faces on the current version of the £50 note, it seems only right that another woman who shone in a predominantly male field join Caroline Haslett. My choice is Amy Johnson. After becoming the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia in 1930, the pioneering aviator went on to set a slew of long-distance flying records. She died after going off-course in bad weather while transporting RAF aircraft around the country for the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War.

How would you deal with the current imbalance of historical figures depicted on British currency? Do you feel it is a problem?

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