ITHACA, NY – In 2020, Alexander Hamilton will no be the centerpiece on the face of the $10 bill. Instead, you might find the face of Cornell alumna Barbara McClintock.

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The US Treasury department says the $10 is the next bill in need of an update. In honor of the 100-year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, the department wants to feature a woman on the bill.

A campaign called “Barbara on the Bill” organized by UC Davis PhD student Don Gibson aims to put Nobel-prize winning scientist Barbara McClintock on the revised bill. A petition to feature McClintock currently has almost 2,000 signatures.

According to the site, McClintock made a number of important discoveries throughout her career. Her most notable – and at the time controversial – was the discovery of “jumping genes,” now known as transposons. Today, “jumping genes” play an important role in cancer research and in formulating new types of medicines.

McClintock presented her theory of “jumping genes” in 1951, but her ideas were rejected because they challenged common understandings of genetics at the time. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that her discovery was properly recognized.

According to a 1983 biography of McClintock, she faced a great deal of discrimination due to her gender. When she was pursuing at PhD at Cornell in the 1920s, women weren’t even allowed in the department that studied genetics – she joined the Botany Department and pursued genetic research on her own.

Barbara McClintock in her lab.

In the early 30s, despite being recommended for a Nobel prize by colleagues (she would go on to win one more than 50 years later), Cornell refused to hire her as a permanent faculty member.

At one of her early lab jobs in the 1940s, she was threatened with termination if she ever married. Later, when her findings on “jumping genes” didn’t conform to current understandings, some of her male colleagues questioned her understanding of the underlying math.

While she never labeled herself as a feminist, McClintock achieved a great deal in a field that is still dominated by men and discriminatory toward women. According to a report from the US Department of Commerce, women make up roughly half the total workforce, but are outnumbered almost 3-to-1 in the STEM workforce.

Promoting gender equality in the STEM fields by highlighting a prominent female scientist is another reason Gibson is pushing to put McClintock on the $10 bill.

Gibson told the Cornell Daily Sun, who originally reported this story, that he felt it was time for America to celebrate non-political figures on its currency. While McClintock may not be as widely known as some famous women in realms of political activism, like Susan B. Anthony or Harriet Tubman, Gibson believes featuring her would serve multiple purposes: promoting women in science, “humanizing” the scientific profession, and lastly celebrating America’s role as a leader in the sciences.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.