Martha Washington is the first and only woman to grace the primary portrait of U.S. paper currency.
Martha's image appears on the $1 Silver Certificate. The certificates were first printed in 1886, six years after the first legal tender dollar bill featuring Washington was issued, a slightly re-designed Martha also was produced in 1891. The $1 Certificates were discontinued in 1957. It was the nation's second longest issued paper money and as the name suggests was backed by the U.S. Government's silver deposits and could be redeemed at anytime for silver from the U.S. Treasury.
The design began in the summer of 1886. The Galveston Daily News reported in August 17th, 1886. "It is learned at the Treasury Department that the new Silver Certificates authorized at the last session of Congress will not be ready for issue before November, the $1 certificate contains a vignette of Martha Washington."
The portrait featured on the currency is a copy of a painting by Gilbert Stuart. The portrait is the only existing likeness of Martha Washington by Stuart. He painted it in 1796, along with a companion portrait of George Washington. Stuart deliberately left the portraits unfinished so he would not have to deliver them to the Washingtons. Today the Martha Washington portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian Institution. It is owned jointly with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Reaction to the Bill
Several newspapers featured quotes from prominent individuals upon the issuance of the Martha Washington Silver Certificate.
"Persons fortunate enough to possess a one-dollar Silver Certificate have an excellent picture of Martha Washington, the wife of the Father of His Country,"
- Indiana Democrat, Feb. 20, 1901
Editor's Note: Martha Washington is the only woman to have her portrait as the central feature on paper currency. While Pocahantas appeared on a note issued in 1869, she is depicted as part of a larger group in a reproduction of the engraving, Pocahantas Presented at Court by T.A. Libeler.