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Yellen honors pioneers as U.S. prints first banknotes with women’s signatures

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FORT WORTH — U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday hailed fellow pioneers during the unveiling of the first U.S. banknotes printed with two women’s signatures, while calling for “much more” work to advance equity for women and minorities.

Yellen, the first woman to head the Treasury and chair the U.S. Federal Reserve, said the new banknotes being produced at the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) site in Fort Worth, Texas, were a reminder of the contributions of women who have worked at Treasury and in economics.

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She was joined at the site by U.S. Treasury Chief Lynn Malerba, the first Native American to serve in that role, to see $1 and $5 bills being printed with their signatures.

Seeing the bills for the first time, Yellen told Malerba: “Oh my gosh. Here we are.”

Asked how she felt, a beaming Yellen told reporters: “Excited. Honored. Thrilled.”

The banknotes, to be delivered to the Federal Reserve this month and enter circulation next year, are the first to carry the signature of a female Treasury chief and a Native woman.

The Fort Worth facility – one of two in the United States – prints over 50% of U.S. paper currency each year. The other one, in Washington, will begin printing the new bills in January or February, a senior BEP official said.

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“We’ve made progress in providing greater economic opportunity for women at Treasury and in the economics profession. But we know that much more needs to be done,” Yellen told printers after a tour of the 675-person facility. “I hope that today is a reminder of the road we’ve traveled on equity and inclusion. And I hope it motivates us to continue to move forward.”

Malerba choked up when she talked about seeing her signature on the new bills as the first Native American treasurer, remembering the financial struggles her parents and six siblings faced when she was growing up. “This moment is history,” she said. “Truly, two women on the currency for the first time is momentous. You are all making history today with all of us.”

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Gita Gopinath, first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, welcomed the new bills and said she was “personally very excited” to spend one for the first time.

“Janet Yellen is an inspiration for all economists. It means a lot to me and my colleagues that she will be the first female Treasury secretary with her signature on the dollar note,” she said.

In her remarks, Yellen said Treasury led the first major effort to hire women into the federal government during the Civil War, and singled out Jennie Douglas as the first woman hired in that cohort and Sophia Holmes, the first Black woman.

It took until the 1930s before Josephine Roche was nominated as the first woman assistant Treasury secretary, she said, but women now comprise 62% of Treasury’s workforce, up from an estimated 44% in a 2020 study.

Yellen said she was the only woman in her doctorate program at Yale University in the early 1970s, and academic data show that women still account for just 34% of PhDs in economics and 30% of professors in the field.

Cecilia Rouse, who is the first Black woman to head the Council of Economic Advisers, told Reuters the new banknotes marked an important milestone.

“It represents that we are finally getting the insight from important parts of our economy and our society,” she said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Kim Coghill and Andrea Ricci)

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