Female Faces On Money? Thank Rosie Rios
More than 42 million people visit Central Park annually, making it the most visited park in the country.
For more than 160 years, the only women in Central Park’s statues were Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare’s Juliet, and Mother Goose. By comparison, there are 23 historical male statues.
If you’ve never really thought about the lack of physical recognition of women commemorated in our nation’s historical statues and portraits, you wouldn’t be alone.
No one did until Rosa “Rosie” Rios entered the scene at the White House and started asking questions.
If you don’t know Rios yet, the dollar bill in your wallet likely bears her name. She served as the U.S. Treasurer in the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2016.
Rios’ signature was included in approximately $1.8 trillion worth of American currency during her tenure, accounting for most of the $2.2 trillion currently in circulation.
Additionally, Rios advocates for more female representation in currency, and her efforts are now realized with the release of quarters featuring poet Maya Angelou last year.
That is how to connect women, money, and power in action.
But Rios comes from humble beginnings. She and her eight siblings were raised in Hayward, California, by their single mother, Guadalupe Rios, a Mexican immigrant.
Still, she became a Harvard graduate and the first Latina to have a portrait commissioned in her honor in the school’s almost 400-year history.
Her career and life’s work embody the value of what recognition can do to catapult our faith in ourselves to do the impossible.
When I interviewed Rios, she spoke about the correlation between visibility and value.
When we don’t feel valued and seen, it can lead to a confidence deficit that carries over and is compounded over time if it’s not addressed.
By women not being represented in any form of U.S. currency, 51% of the country’s population has a confidence discrepancy spanning generations.
But Rios is working to solve this problem through multiple initiatives to ensure historical women are represented in our nation’s archives.
During her time in government, Rios advocated for the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act, passed in 2020, and is responsible for the launch of the Angelou quarters.
Rios was also responsible for Harriet Tubman becoming the new face of the $20 bill, a plan initially shelved by the Trump administration but later revived by the Biden administration.
Rios believes that seeing more women, particularly women of color, represented in U.S. currency will inspire future generations of female leaders.
She says, “We value what we see every day, but do we see what we value?”
After her time in office, Rosie launched her foundation, Empowerment 2026, with 3 major projects and initiatives to rewrite history.
#1 Notable Women
For more than a century, no U.S. note has featured a woman; however, in 2015, the Department of the Treasury partnered with Rios to create a list of hundreds of historically significant women recommended to appear on U.S. currency.
This effort was fulfilled in 2016 when Harriet Tubman was announced as the new face of the $20 bill. Even with this monumental milestone, the idea of celebrating all of these women in our currency had yet to come to fruition.
Notable Women is a project allowing users to place 100 of America’s most influential women onto any U.S. note. This is made possible through augmented reality, which can be accessed simply by holding a device over any U.S. Bill.
#2 Teachers Righting History
This educational project is focused on inspiring teachers and students by providing them with resources to learn about the incredible accomplishments of women throughout history.
By exploring the achievements of past female leaders, activists, and scientists, this project seeks to empower the next generation of women to become advocates for social change and to develop their own paths of success.
Knowledge is power and, through this project, Rios and her team can help to create more inclusive and equitable classrooms and communities.
Together, they work to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women and to break down the barriers that stand in the way of progress.
#3 National Historic American Women Statue Initiative
Like coins and currency, Rios is also passionate about representing historical women via statues commissioned in honor of people who have made significant contributions.
Thanks to this initiative, Central Park eventually unveiled the first-ever female statues of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 2020.
It’s about damn time.
Today, Rios is the CEO of Red River Associates and an investor in the online reality show “Unicorn Hunters.”
What’s the secret to Rosie’s success in changing the literal face of history?
In her words, the only way to effect mass change for women’s rights and visibility is by changing the minds of one person at a time.
We have to talk and listen to each other.
“People ask me all the time, when are you done?” Rios shared with me. “I’m done when we’re not talking about this anymore.”