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Image Credit: Donald Gibson

Don Gibson (University of California, Davis) describes how he decided to start the Barbara on the Bill Campaign


When I heard that the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that a woman will be on the $10 bill, I started reading several articles about which woman it should be. I was shocked that so few women of science were being mentioned. I thought we, as scientists, should fix this. One woman kept coming to mind. This woman revolutionized genetics & biology, suffered harsh discrimination during her career, and remains the only woman to single-handedly win a Nobel Prize in life science: Barbara McClintock.

This idea started back in February when I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson give a public talk. He showed currency from nations around world. Many countries had their great scientists and discoveries on their coins and paper bills. While America’s money had only one theme: old, white, male politicians. He inspired me to think about national values, and there is no place more prominent for a national value then a nation’s currency.

America may be the leader in science today, but if it does not value science, other nations may surpass this country in the future. Having a woman of science on our currency could be a turning point in the way Americans view science. It could also highlight the success of real scientists who face injustice. McClintock was held back from permanent positions multiple times in her career because of her gender. She was able to succeed despite these set-backs through hard work, eventually designing ground-breaking genetics experiments in a lab of her own. Even today, challenges as a result of gender discrimination still exist; only one in four jobs in STEM is held by a woman.

Surprisingly, when I asked fellow graduate students in science fields to name a historical American woman scientist, they were often at a loss.

“I was shocked when I realized I couldn’t name any other female American scientists from history, ” said fellow geneticist Anastasia Bodnar, Policy Director at Biology Fortified, a science education and advocacy non-profit organization.

Several of my mentors are amazing women scientists. I am a firm believer that they need to be more recognized for their contributions to science. McClintock’s contributions were prolific and I see advocating for her to be on the $10 bill as a great way to give back to the female mentors I have had.

I know that a number of scientists, including McClintock, do not seek fame. Many other great women are also being advocated for the $10 bill, but as scientists we need to advocate for ourselves in public spaces for our contributions to be widely recognized. Whether or not Barbara McClintock is selected, I consider this effort a success, if this project increases the dialogue surrounding women in science.

The campaign is seeking public support though barbaraonthebill.com, and the Department of the Treasure is taking public feedback. You can also comment via Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TheNew10.


The views expressed in guest posts are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Genetics Society of America or its employees.

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