For the Last 65 Years, Every U.S. Treasurer has been a Woman

Sunday, August 17, 2014
Rosa Gumataotao Rios

Democrats and Republicans haven’t been able to agree on much, particularly lately, but for the past 65 years presidents of both parties have continued a tradition started by Harry Truman—appointing a woman as U.S. Treasurer.


No, not the Secretary of the Treasury; white men appear to have a lock on that job. The treasurer is responsible for “oversight” of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and of the U.S. gold reserves in Fort Knox. And her signature appears on the paper currency printed during her term.


Truman’s choice for the job was Georgia Neese Clark. The treasurer is currently Rosa Gumataotao Rios, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed in July 2009. Rios bristled at a suggestion that the job of Treasurer might be a token. “Women are playing a very significant role in economic dialogue, not just domestically but globally as well,” Rios told the BBC. “The more we recognize that role women play, the more it will inspire future generations to also think about a career in finance and economics.”


Writing for The Atlantic, Lenika Cruz pointed out that “U.S. presidents—both Republican and Democratic—have treated the treasurer position as a low-risk, high-visibility job that promotes the appearance of diversity while rewarding a loyal supporter. In other words, the trend has to do with political favoritism, precedent, ceremony, and a bit of (well-intentioned) tokenism.”


Still, women are getting more recognition in the field. Earlier this year, Janet Yellen was named the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve Board.


Breaking the ice is important. “Once there’s a woman appointed in a position, it’s easy to assume that position is one that could be filled by a woman,” Jennifer Lawless, who lead the Women and Politics Institute at American University, told The Atlantic. “Once an initial ceiling is broken, once an initial piece of progress is made, there is a tendency to continue down that path.”


And sometimes just putting someone in a prominent position is valuable. “The average American doesn’t know the difference between Janet Yellen’s position and treasurer,” Lawless pointed out.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Why All of the U.S. Treasurers Since 1949 Have Been Women (by Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic)

The Woman Whose Signature Graces Billions Of U.S. Notes (by Thomas Sparrow, BBC)


historicvs 10 years ago
The signatures of the U.S. Treasurer and the Secretary of the Trasury still appear on our paper money because our currency was originally intended to be promissory notes, each one stating that the note could be redeemed at face value in gold, silver, or "lawful money" at the U.S. Treasury. The gold redemption clause was abolished in 1933 and the silver and lawful money redemption clauses were deleted in 1968, as was the "payable to the bearer on demand" clause. Now there is nothing left of the original wording of the currency but the Legal Tender clause. The result is that a dollar now buys what three cents bought when Federal Resreve Notes were first printed in 1914.

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