A Lesson on Harriet Tubman and Currency

by Elisabeth Morgan


This file photo taken on April 29, 2015 shows an image provided by the ‘Women On 20’s’ organization featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the U.S. twenty dollar bill. Image via Daily Mail UK

The U.S. Treasury Department just announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. The escaped slave led hundreds of others to freedom along the Underground Railroad, and will replace the 7th president who, like many land owners of the time, owned slaves. She will also be the first woman to ever be on the face of an American bill, and the change will take place just in time for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States in 2020.

These resources below, from our units on The Underground Railroad and Economics, can be combined for an in-depth discussion about the significance of this change. Take some time for your students to learn about this important icon and about how we use currency in the United States. We’ve also included some discussion questions to keep the conversation going. 

The Underground Railroad – Heroes and Helpers

Harriet_Tubman_1400In the underground railroad, “conductors” and “stationmasters” risked their lives to help escaped slaves. Harriet Tubman was one of these heroes. Her nickname was “Moses” after the biblical  Moses, who led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. She made trips from the south to Maryland to help hundreds of people escape slavery. “Slave Hunters” were her biggest threat. Her capture was worth $12,000, a huge amount of money at the time…but she never gave up. 

Before she escaped slavery, she remembers thinking, “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was only two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I would fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted . . . . ”

Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think former slaves risked their own lives to help others escape?
  • Why were Quakers early supporters of the Underground Railroad?
  • Why can Harriet Tubman and Levi Coffin be called heroes?


Economics: Money and Currency

CurrencyA currency is the form of money used in a particular country. The first official currency was invented in the kingdom of Lydia around 600 BC. The king of Lydia had silver-and-gold coins made and stamped with a lion’s head. The currency in the United States it the U.S. dollar. In Japan, it is the yen. In Mexico, the peso. Every country has its own currency and the symbols and individuals on each bill are significant to the history of the country. 

Discussion Questions:

  • What advantages and disadvantages do you see to bartering? Have you ever bartered with someone? What did you trade?
  • Why do you think different cultures developed different types of money?
  • What other hero would you like to see on a bill? Why?
Elisabeth Morgan

Elisabeth Morgan is Kids Discover's content and community manager. She participated in the Teacher's Assistantship Program in France and was an assistant teacher at the International School of Louisiana in New Orleans before moving to New York to go to Columbia Journalism School. She joined the Kids Discover team in 2015.