9 Suggestions for Women as Figureheads on International Banknotes

June 11, 2020

The £50 (GBP) note has recently been updated with mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing as the new face of the note. 

This decision has reignited the popular debate about gender representation on banknotes.

The Case for Dollar Diversity

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said that banknotes should 'reflect the diversity of British society.'

The debate over representation on banknotes was last ignited by the removal of Elizabeth Fry from the £5 (GBP) back in 2013. This led to Jane Austen appearing on the £10 (GBP) note in 2017. Excluding Queen Elizabeth II, Austen is the only woman featured on the Bank of England's notes.

This led us to wonder whether we could redesign some of the world's most important currencies to include more women on their banknotes. 

There are currently 180 currencies recognised as legal tender around the world. Of these, 117 feature people - 88% of which are men. If we exclude the British Queen, this figure rises to 91%.

We thought it was time to redress this imbalance. We found the most widely-searched women from each country on Wikipedia, selected by using the number of times each page was viewed in the 18 months between January 2018 and June 2019. This gave us an idea of who the general public considers the most influential women in their respective countries.

We have excluded royalty, to give women from all social backgrounds a chance to be considered. Living women were also discounted.

Our new concepts celebrate great women from around the world. Read on to find out who features.


UK: £5 (GBP) - Boudicca

A British folk hero, Boudicca led an uprising against the Roman occupation of Britain in 61 AD. After the death of her husband, the Romans annexed her kingdom and flogged Boudicca.

Outraged, Boudicca led an alliance of tribes in open rebellion against Rome. The rebels burned and destroyed modern-day Colchester, London and St. Albans before being defeated in battle by a Roman army that was overwhelmingly outnumbered. 

Boudicca died after the defeat, either of an illness or by killing herself to avoid capture. Despite this, her memory lives on as a symbol of British courage. The ultimate irony is that her statue now sits in London, a city she helped to destroy.


£20 (GBP) - Ada Lovelace

The only legitimate daughter of the poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace was raised by her mother to love mathematics and logic. In 1833 she was introduced to the famous mathematician Charles Babbage and the pair became close friends.

Babbage was working on plans for an Analytical Engine, a machine now considered the first computer. Lovelace wrote the first published computer program to go with an article she translated about the Analytical Engine. As such, she is known as one of the world's first computer programmers.

Lovelace could see the capabilities of computers beyond mere calculations which was a rarity for her time. Unfortunately, she died of cancer at only 36 before her huge potential could be realised. Shortlisted for the new £50 (GBP) note, she was perhaps unlucky not to be chosen.


USA: $10 (USD) - Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart was one of the world's most celebrated aviators. She became the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight in 1928 and received a medal for doing so.

As well as being famous for her flying, Earhart is also a feminist icon. As a member of the National Women's Party and supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, she encouraged women to reject restrictions imposed on them by society. She founded an organisation for female pilots and served as its first president, inspiring a generation of aviators.

In 1937 Earhart attempted to circumnavigate the globe but her plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean and she was never found. The mystery of her disappearance has fuelled several conspiracy theories and speculation.


$100 (USD) - Rosa Parks

In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger after being ordered to do so by the driver. She was not the first person to make such a protest but, due to her prominence in the community, civil rights leaders considered her the best fit to challenge segregation laws in court.

Parks' defiance became an important symbol of the civil rights movement in the United States. Her arrest led to her losing her job and she received death threats for many years. Her action triggered a bus boycott that led to racial segregation laws being ruled unconstitutional.

She continued to fight for justice all her life. After her death she became the first woman to lie in honour in the Capitol Rotunda.


France: €5 (EUR) - Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was a peasant girl living in France during the Hundred Years' War. The English had occupied most of Northern France at the time of Joan's birth.

When she was 13 years old, Joan began to receive visions instructing her to save France from English control. She led an army to rescue the strategically important city of Orléans when it was under siege. The siege was lifted only nine days after Joan's arrival.

Unfortunately, she was captured while leading another assault and subsequently put on trial for heresy. Joan was swiftly found guilty and burned at the stake. She was only 19. Her death made her a martyr and turned the war against the English into a popular cause for national liberation. Joan was made a saint in 1920. Her legend as a heroine of France lives on.


Germany: €10 (EUR) - Marlene Dietrich

As an actress and singer, Marlene Dietrich's career spanned 70 years. In Berlin, she acted on the stage and in silent films before moving to Hollywood in the 1930s.

Dietrich was approached by Nazi Party officials and offered a lucrative contract to return to Germany and make films for the Nazis. She declined due to her strong political convictions. In the late 1930s she created a fund with several other German exiles to help Jews and dissidents escape the Nazi regime.

In 1939 Dietrich renounced her German citizenship and became a US citizen. She performed for Allied troops during the Second World War and helped to sell war bonds. She received the Medal of Freedom in 1947 for her wartime work.

After the war, she worked as a cabaret artist and singer performing live around the world until her 75th birthday. She died aged 90, an enduring icon of stage and screen.


Russia: ₽100 (RUB) - Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova was a prima ballerina for the Imperial Russian Ballet at the turn of the 20th century. Her passion for ballet began as a child when her mother took her to a lavish production of Sleeping Beauty in St. Petersburg.

She was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School at 10 years old. Training was difficult as ballet did not come easily to her but Pavlova practised relentlessly, remarking 'work transforms talent into genius.'

Her most famous achievement is The Dying Swan, a solo she created in 1905. After leaving the Imperial Ballet, Pavlova formed her own company and performed worldwide. She was the first ballerina to tour the world, inspiring people to take up ballet. She died in 1931 of pneumonia after refusing an operation that would have left her unable to dance.


China: ¥100 (CNY) - Ching Shih

Ching Shih was born Shih Yang in Guangdong in 1775. She was working in a floating brothel at the turn of the 19th Century when she married an infamous pirate, Cheng I. 

Ching Shih participated in her husband's piracy, helping to bring rival Cantonese fleets into an alliance known as the Red Flag Fleet.

When her husband died, Ching Shih took over the leadership of the Red Flag Fleet. She united the fleet under a single code of law. This code was strict and heavily enforced, with beheading and flogging common.

Under Ching Shih's command, the Red Flag Fleet could not be defeated by the Chinese, Portuguese or British navies for many years. On her eventual defeat in 1810, she accepted an amnesty offered to pirates who agreed to end their careers. She died in her bed at 69, a free woman.


Japan: ¥1000 (JPY) - Tomoe Gozen

Tomoe Gozen was a female samurai considered the first general of Japan. She served in the war that led to the establishment of the first shogunate there. Although details about her personal life are contested, the details about her skill as a warrior are well recognised.

At the Battle of Yokotagawara, Tomoe defeated and beheaded seven samurai. This was at a time when collecting heads was the ultimate sign of military prowess. In 1184 she led 300 outnumbered samurai into battle against 6 000 cavalry troops in the Battle of Awazu. Although she fought bravely, her troops were defeated and Tomoe was one of only five survivors.

Her commander ordered her to desert the battlefield, which was considered an extreme disgrace. To redeem her honour, Tomoe beheaded one final warrior. What happened to her after her last battle is unknown. There are differing accounts saying she became a concubine or became a Buddhist nun.

Whatever her fate, her legacy as 'a warrior worth a thousand' is kept alive through the Tale of the Heike.


Legal information

©Stenn International Ltd. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following:

  • You may copy the content to your website page but only if you acknowledge this website as the source of the material and provide a backlink to this article.
  • You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content in any other way. 


Disclaimer: The above article has been prepared on the basis of Stenn's understanding of the subject. It is for information only and doesn't constitute advice or recommendation. Whilst every care has been taken in preparing this article, we cannot guarantee that inaccuracies will not occur. Stenn International Ltd. will not be held responsible for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of anything published above. All those applying for credit should seek professional advice when doing so.