Former U.S. treasurer speaks at Baylor

Former U.S. Treasurer Rosa “Rosie” Gumataotao Rios speaks Wednesday at Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation about her time as treasurer and her work promoting women’s history. Photo credit: Timothy Hong

By Bailey Brammer | Staff Writer

When former U.S. Treasurer Rosa “Rosie” Gumataotao Rios looks back on her almost eight-year tenure in a position most only hold for 18-24 months, she had three words of advice for those interested in embracing women’s involvement in American history: recognition, connection and inspiration.

Rios spoke to Baylor students at the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation Wednesday afternoon about her time as treasurer, as well as her efforts to place women on U.S. currency and her most recent initiative, Teachers Righting History. The lecture was sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, history department and art department.

“It is time to change the narrative,” Rios said. “The only way we can go forward is to realize how this country was founded, why it was founded and hopefully learn from those lessons.”

Dr. Heidi Hornik, professor of art history, introduced Rios and had originally extended her the invitation to speak at Baylor. Hornik met Rios last year through her son, Michael Parsons, who attends Harvard University with Rios’ son.

“We’re both moms, and our sons are very good friends,” Hornik said. “They met last year as freshmen, and when it was Parents Weekend, the boys had arranged for us to all meet and have dinner.”

Rios’ speech at Baylor is the first public lecture given by the former treasurer since her resignation last July.

“When I thought about the outstanding invitations that I had, I looked a little closer at Baylor,” Rios said. “What I have read about, and what I certainly have learned in the last few days, is the importance of community and the importance of faith [at Baylor].”

In the midst of the financial crisis of 2008, Rios was selected as one of 23 members of the Treasury/Federal Reserve Transition Team. From there, Rios was recommended for permanent appointment and then nominated by President Barack Obama in May 2009 as U.S. treasurer.

During her time spent on the Treasury/Federal Reserve Transition Team, Rios said she took a particular interest in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and came to realize that there were no women depicted on U.S. currency that were not allegorical.

“As I’m looking through [the currency], what I found so striking was that every single image that I came across of a woman was not a real woman,” Rios said. “They were all allegorical, and I just found that was odd … That was how women were represented. Yet, every image of a man was a real man.”

With this discovery in mind, Rios took it upon herself to ensure that the next redesign of U.S. currency would include prominent women in American history.

Harriet Tubman will be the new face of the $20 bill, and similar changes will be made to the $5 and $10 bills in 2020, which marks the 100 year anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Shreveport, La., sophomore Sara Beth Burch believes that Rios’ efforts to remember women’s role in U.S. history is something to celebrate.

“I think it’s very important for women to realize they did have a place in history, and they do have a place in history,” Burch said. “I’m so glad that we are now putting women on currency because it shows young women, and boys, that we really were there.”

Since her resignation, Rios has launched an initiative entitled Teachers Righting History, with the goal of bringing attention to prevalent American women and their role in history in high school classrooms across the country.

“Maybe [this generation] has realized that you need to go back sometimes in order to go froward,” Rios said. “Maybe you have realized that our country is not about ‘his story’ or ‘her story’ but ‘our story.’”