As “Hamilton: An American Musical” departs Atlanta after a record-breaking run at Fox Theatre (the show will return for Atlanta’s 2019-20 theater season), it’s important to note that the musical is set in the late 1700s and early 1800s, a time when American women had little, if any, rights. While women can vote and get an education today, we still need to pay close attention to the characters of Angelica and Eliza Schuyler, daughters of the wealthy Phillip Schuyler and, in Eliza’s case, future wife to Alexander Hamilton.
Angelica Schuyler is undoubtedly the smartest of her sisters, able to read and reflect on “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine and match wits with Hamilton. The moment she meets Hamilton, she is able to immediately deduce why he’s after her (because she’s rich). While Angelica has the willpower to go after what she wants and compel Thomas Jefferson to “include women in the sequel,” as she proclaims in “The Schuyler Sisters,” she can’t make a direct impact for the same reason that the men in power, according to “Satisfied,” won’t use her intellect to improve the nation: Her “only job is to marry rich.”
Angelica’s status in society, as “A Winter’s Ball” states, is determined by her wealth and her “proximity to power.” While Alexander can use his intellect to rise socially, Angelica can only hope to marry someone rich, taking the ability to change her own life completely out of her hands and putting it in the hands of the man she marries. Angelica, along with the other women in the musical, has little to no agency in her own life, and the moment she realizes that, she states in “Satisfied” that she will “never be satisfied.”
Eliza Schuyler, while thrilled in Act One when she marries Alexander Hamilton, quickly realizes that she, too, has no agency in her life, not even enough to convince her own husband to “let [her] inside [his] heart” in “That Would Be Enough.” Eliza spends the majority of the musical pleading with Hamilton for love and attention. While her expectations of married life might be high, she completely bends to her husband, stating that even the tiniest bit of love and attention “would be enough.”
Unfortunately, it takes Hamilton cheating on her for Eliza to switch from being passive to active in her own life and future. While burning Hamilton’s letters, Eliza erases herself from history and takes charge of her household, forcing Hamilton to sleep in his office. Eliza’s eventual happiness comes because she gains control over her own life. When Hamilton apologizes to her for cheating and for inadvertently causing the death of their son, her newfound power allows her to secure better treatment from her husband and gain status as an equal in her marriage.
At the end of the musical, it is the women who ensure that history remembers the Founding Fathers. Eliza chooses to place herself “back in the narrative” in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” and, by herself, raises funds for the Washington Monument, speaks out against slavery, and starts the first private orphanage in New York City, an institution that allows her to shape her life as well as the lives of the children in her care.
While Eliza’s initial goal in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” was to “tell [Alexander’s] story,” she later wonders who will tell her story, realizing she has impacted history herself, and not just as Alexander’s wife. At the end of the musical, Eliza is front and center, because she is the reason her husband is remembered. Once Eliza speaks up for what she wants — America to remember her husband — she becomes happier and literally shapes history.
The importance of having a voice still rings true today. The biggest takeaway from these two characters is the importance of taking charge in our own lives. Neither of the women are content letting others decide their fates, and once they gain a voice, both characters are able to make real change. Today, in an age where women are more empowered to speak up and speak out, we see drastic change and women in positions of power, able to influence not only their lives but the lives of others.
We can’t stop pushing with only a few women in positions of power, however. We have to continue to use our voices to fight for complete equality, equal pay, and a woman in the White House.
Sydney, 17, is a rising senior at Woodward Academy and loves to speak French.