At this point, most of the country has heard of the revolutionary new musical that is sweeping the nation off it’s feet. If you haven’t, let me catch you up: Hamilton the musical tells the story of the orphan, immigrant, founding father Alexander Hamilton through a hip-hop and R&B influenced score. Yes, that’s right – hip-hop and an old white dude who signed the constitution. Except, NOT. The cast consists entirely of people of color, with the exception of actor Johnathon Groff who plays King George – this is by design. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer, lyricist, and star of Hamilton, wanted a cast that reflected the genre of music the score consisted of. Even more importantly, Miranda wanted the cast to look like today’s America, instead of what America looked like back then. This musical is changing the world of music, shedding light on current social and political problems, and as playwright Tony Kushner says, “It is convincing everybody of the need to see this nation as a nation of immigrants—the need to see people of color as central to owning the nation.” But most relevant for girls like you and me, it has brought 3 powerful women back to life who we could all take a lesson or two from.
The Schuyler Sisters.
Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy (if you know the musical I hope you sang that line in your head). Phillipa Soo (in the green) portrays Eliza Schuyler, the middle sister and wife of Alexander Hamilton. Renée Elise-Goldberry (in the peach) portrays Angelica Schuyler, the older sister who loved Hamilton but let him go for the sake of her sister (scandalous, right?!). Lastly, Jasmine Cephas Jones (in the yellow) portrays Peggy Schuyler, the youngest who is overlooked by most, but worth mentioning because what is not to love about Peggy? As a whole, these sisters are unwavering loyal, powerful on their own two feet, and innovative beyond their time. So who exactly are these ladies and why should you love them? Keep in mind, that all this information is what you learn from the musical; I didn’t even crack out any history books for this. But let’s break it down:
Eliza is poise and patient. She married Alexander and raised their children while he spent the majority of his time writing and serving the country as it was being built. She knew the importance of his job, and without her at his side, he would not have been able to accomplish everything he did. On top of all of this, she walked through the darkest of trenches with him. When he had an affair with another woman and published the details of it in The Reynolds Pamphlet in order to protect his reputation, we hear her gut-wrenching response… or rather lack thereof. In the song “Burn,” Eliza sings the lyrics
“I’m erasing myself from the narrative
Let future historians wonder how Eliza
Reacted when you broke her heart
You have torn it all apart
I am watching it
Watching it burn
The world has no right to my heart
The world has no place in our bed
They don’t get to know what I said
I’m burning the memories
Burning the letters that might have redeemed you
You forfeit all rights to my heart
You forfeit the place in our bed
You sleep in your office instead
With only the memories
Of when you were mine
I hope that you burn”
Does that not just rip your heart out?
Not saying anything was the most powerful move she could have made in that day and age. Leaving him may not have been an option, but remaining silent was. To add to this heartbreak, her son Phillip was shot and killed in a duel. A heartbroken Eliza returns and moves uptown with her husband, eventually forgiving him.
Yep, she forgave him.
You have to have a special kind of heart to forgive something like that. No doubt he was undeserving of her forgiveness, no doubt about that at all. But she did it anyway, and that shows incredible strength and loyalty on her part if you ask me.
But wait, there’s more!
When Alexander is shot and killed in a duel, in the same spot her son was killed, she tells his story. As the closing song says:
“Every other founding father story gets told
Every other founding father gets to grow old
But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
Who tells your story?
So who is responsible for telling Hamilton’s story?
In the closing number she says:
“I put myself back in the narrative
I stop wasting time on tears
I live another fifty years
It’s not enough
I interview every soldier who fought by your side
I try to make sense of your thousands of pages of writingsYou really do write like you’re running out of time”
There’s so much more, later in the song she talks about how she established the first private orphanage in New York City, and it still stands today. How amazing is that? She went far so above and beyond her duties as a wife and woman in that time period, and she told an important story of an important man who had a crucial hand in our nation’s development.
Angelica is the epitome intelligence and selflessness. We first meet her in the number “The Schuyler Sisters.” She appears as the leader of the sisters, yearning for a mate who would challenge her. She sings:
“I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane
You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson
I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!”
What a freakin rockstar right?!”
She met Alexander before Eliza, and fell in love with him. However, she knew that she couldn’t marry him because her role as the oldest daughter meant that she had to marry rich – which Alexander wasn’t. So she introduced him to her sister when Eliza showed interest and didn’t pursue him any farther. In her song satisfied she says:
“I know my sister like I know my own mind
You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind
If I tell her that I love him she’d be silently resigned
He’d be mine
She would say, ‘I’m fine’
She’d be lying
But when I fantasize at night
It’s Alexander’s eyes
As I romanticize what might
Have been if I hadn’t sized him
Up so quickly
At least my dear Eliza’s his wife;
At least I keep his eyes in my life…”
She stepped away from the only man she had ever met who she was attracted to for his mind. Even when he became part of the family, she resisted the temptation because she loved her sister so much. Furthermore, she had a particular intelligence and power that Alexander always turned to when in need of political assistance and advisement. She moved back to England once she was married, and they constantly wrote each other. She constantly was advising him on all kinds of things. The staging of the show shows time after time how delicately and swiftly Angelica wielded her power. In one particular song, “Take a Break” she stands on a balcony spinning a parasol, simply solving Alexander’s problems saying:
“My dearest Alexander
You must get through to Jefferson
Sit down with him and compromise
Don’t stop ‘til you agree
Your fav’rite older sister
Angelica, reminds you
There’s someone in your corner all the way across the sea”
AND THEN when Alexander betrays Eliza, who does Angelica come home for? Eliza. She stands firmly by her sister’s side through it all, despite her feelings and friendship with Alexander. Angelica exhibited the fierce loyalty and strength that is so crucial for a healthy sisterhood.
Honestly, the musical doesn’t tell much of Peggy’s story. In fact, most of the time Peggy is being dragged along by her two older sisters when she’s onstage. But without Peggy there, the Schuyler Sisters wouldn’t be the same. Also, look at that SASS. What’s not to love about Peggy?
I had the privilege to see the musical just last Saturday in New York City, and it exceeded all of my expectations! The cast was fearless in their storytelling, the staging and choreography was brilliantly intricate, and the set and lights were just mind-blowing. I left that room so inspired by the art I had just experienced, as well as the story that was told – especially the story of the Schuyler Sisters. They exemplify true sisterhood and loyalty: something we should all strive for in our communities and friendships. They stood powerfully on their own, but even more powerfully together.
So I encourage you to dig deeper into this musical. By just by listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, you can hear the whole story and get to know the Schuyler Sisters. Listeners truely get to experience their incredible power. The story of these strong, loyal, independent women is one we can all learn from.