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Eleanor Roosevelt tops poll for new $10 bill: What's her appeal?

A new poll shows more than one in four Americans are hoping the new $10 bill will feature Mrs. Roosevelt. 

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    Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, pose during their vacation in Warm Springs, Ga., on Oct. 4, 1929.
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The first woman to be featured on US paper currency in over a century could very well be Eleanor Roosevelt, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll

More than one in four Americans said they would like the former first lady to replace Alexander Hamilton on the new redesigned $10 bill. Mrs. Roosevelt led the poll at 27 percent, followed by African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman (17 percent) and Native American explorer Sacagawea (13 percent). 

Tied for fourth place were Amelia Earhart and Susan B. Anthony at 11 percent. Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor finished with 4 percent. 

The poll follows US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's announcement in June that for the first time since the end of the 19th century, a woman’s face will appear on paper currency. The $10 bill is the first to be redesigned under a new theme of democracy, and is set to be unveiled in 2020.

“America’s currency is a way for our nation to make a statement about who we are and what we stand for,” Secretary Lew said in a statement.

Other contenders who were not included in the poll are Betsy Ross, Maya Angelou, Pocahontas, and Mother Theresa. Within a few weeks of the announcement, there were over 1.5 million interactions discussing the bill on social media and in other public forums, according to Lew.

So with such a wide pool to choose from, why has Eleanor Roosevelt emerged as the fan favorite so far?

“[Eleanor] Roosevelt’s public involvement in politics and social policy dramatically changed the perception of women in the public sphere,” writes blogger Brandie Temple for the National Women’s Law Center website. “Her story is one of defiance in the face of social norms and her actions paved the way for women’s movement into politics. It is on her shoulders that female legislators, governors, judges, and presidential hopefuls now stand.”

Another Eleanor supporter, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, cites the late Mrs. Roosevelt’s involvement in the civil rights and labor movements, as well as her commitment to working with the United Nations following her husband’s death, as reasons why she “would be the perfect citizen to honor.” 

But the former first lady has her fair share of opponents as well. In response to Mr. Matthews' endorsement, Foundation for Economic Education president Lawrence Reed argues that when it came to the civil rights movement, “Eleanor was a late-blooming talker, not a doer, and there were lots of both talkers and doers before her.” 

Mr. Reed also cites an incident in 1942 when Mrs. Roosevelt asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to launch a wartime sedition investigation aimed at linking Westbrook Pegler, a conservative journalist who frequently covered the first lady’s politics in a negative light, to the fascist enemy. 

This request demonstrates “her deliberate willingness to use the FBI to undermine the First Amendment,” Reed writes, concluding, “We can surely do better.” 

According to the Marist poll, Roosevelt is currently more favored by women than men; she earned 33 percent of the female vote. When the preferences were broken down by race, results showed that Harriet Tubman led the African American vote with 47 percent. 

The public can join the debate on the New 10 website or on Twitter with the hashtag #theNew10. 

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