The Greatest American Heroine You’ve Never Heard of: Why Florence Kelley Should Be the Woman on the Next $10 Bill – National Consumers League

This post appeared on the Huffington Post on July 6, 2015

The Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Jack Lew, recently announced that the newly re-designed $10 bill, slated for 2020, would feature the face of a woman to honor the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The announcement set the Internet ablaze with suggestions for which historical U.S. woman would adorn the new bill.

It’s about time! While this will not be the first time a woman has graced U.S. currency – Martha Washington was featured on the dollar bill in the 19th Century and Pocahontas was in a group photo that appeared on the $20 bill from 1865 to 1869 – it’s been way too long since we had an American heroine appear on paper money. Queen Elizabeth’s likeness is on bills in 15 Commonwealth countries. Frida Kahlo is featured on Mexico’s 500-peso note. Eva Peron has been celebrated on Argentina’s 100-peso note since 2012. Opera star Dame Nellie Melba appears on the Australian 100-dollar note.

Lew has said that he will be choosing a woman who “has played a major role in our history who represents the theme of democracy.” One of the National Consumers League’s founders, Florence Kelley, was a champion for equal rights and consumer protections who fought her whole life for democracy and would be an ideal candidate – a true unsung female American hero.

Though her actions are not as popularized as other women in U.S. history, she has indeed played a major role in the creation of modern America and worked tirelessly to raise awareness and influence public policy to fight the oppressive working conditions for women, children, and all workers. She may not be as well recognized in popular culture, but we all take for granted the 8-hour workday that she helped to establish and the other groundbreaking reforms in labor and consumer products for which she was responsible. Her work left a very visible mark on our nation’s history, and we now have a chance for her legacy in social justice to be acknowledged.

Here are the top ten reasons we should put #KelleyOn10.

1. Influence. Justice Felix Frankfurter said about Florence Kelley: she “had probably the largest single share in shaping the social history of the United States during the first 30 years of the 20th Century.”
2. Workers rights. The daughter of William D. Kelley, a co-founder of the Republican Party in 1859 and a U.S. Congressman from Philadelphia, 1860-1890, she was a charismatic speaker who convinced her contemporaries that women and children needed labor protections at a time when unions would not represent their interests.
3. Pioneer. After graduating from Cornell University in 1882, and obtaining a law degree from Northwestern University in 1893, she co-founded in 1898 a leading progressive era organization – the National Consumers League (NCL)– and headed the NCL until her death in 1932.
4. Progressive leadership. She fostered the creation of 64 local consumers’ leagues throughout the United States, and traveled extensively to orchestrate connections between local leagues and the national league, promoting a social justice agenda that was widely adopted by the women’s suffrage movement and other progressive movements nationwide. She inspired and mentored future Labor Secretary, Frances Perkins; Eleanor Roosevelt followed in Kelley’s footsteps.
5. Ending child labor. She was the leading champion of eradicating child labor in the United States from 1898-1932.
6. 40-hour work week. She promoted the enactment of state wage and hours laws for women, which created the foundation for the 40-hour week and minimum wage law incorporated within the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938.
7. Universal health care. She led the campaign for enactment of the first federal health care bill, the Welfare and Hygiene of Maternity and Infancy Act, more commonly known as the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921
8. NAACP leadership. In 1909 she was one of the original organizers, with W.E.B. DuBois and others, of the NAACP and served on the association’s board for 20 years. Kelley fully supported racial equality, writing in a 1926 letter, “I think there should be a written pledge from every hotel that there will be no race discrimination. Certainly I should not dream of staying in any hotel which refused to my fellow members either bed or board.”
9. Women’s suffrage. She was a prominent leader in the battle for women’s suffrage, served a Vice President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1902, and in 1920 co-founded the League of Women Voters.
10. Consumer safety. She advocated for the Pure Food and Drugs Act and Meat Inspection Act of 1906, pioneering consumer protection laws that laid the groundwork for the creation of the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.