Eliza Hamilton: The Revolutionary Woman America Forgot

Meg Howe

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was the wife of American Founding Father

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (nicknamed Eliza by her husband) was the wife of American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, and daughter to Revolutionary War general, Philip Schuyler. In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway adaptation of the life of Alexander Hamilton, Eliza is portrayed as dedicated, yet desirable. However, like many women of the Revolutionary Era, Eliza’s own contributions and legacies tend to be overshadowed by the legacy of the men around her. It is important to recall that without Eliza’s dedication to protecting the legacy of her husband, modern historians would not be able to research Alexander Hamilton to the extent that they have. Ron Chernow, author of the biography that inspired Miranda’s Broadway hit, claims that his work would not have been possible without Eliza laying the foreground for this research. Eliza married Alexander Hamilton in 1780 and was present throughout his political career. She had her own grasp of politics and was actively aware of the events of the Revolution. Much of her life was spent raising their eight children, in a loving household, following traditional religious ideas. Her dedication and motherly love can be observed as the Hamilton’s opened their home to an orphaned child for roughly ten years. What is so interesting about this woman, who we all know to be so driven and dedicated, is that many of her own correspondence have not survived history; her history is written by the lasting impression she left on others. As dramatized in Hamilton: The Musical, Eliza removed herself from her husband’s narrative after she was humiliated by the affair Alexander had with Maria Reynolds in 1791. Hamilton put himself and his reputation over his loyalty to his family when he published the ‘Reynold’s Pamphlet’ in 1797. Not only was Eliza embarrassed by her husband’s selfish act of adultery, but she was then hounded by the press, describing Miss Maria Reynolds as a “harlot”.
Eliza Hamilton: The Revolutionary Woman America Forgot
Portrait of Eliza Hamilton

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Eliza Hamilton: The Revolutionary Woman America Forgot
Lin Manuel Miranda in the musical of Hamilton

Eliza made many of her own contributions to the United States of America

Despite the emotional turmoil and mistrust that Eliza experienced as a result of her husband’s reckless acts, she was still driven by the desire to honour him and his legacy. While her husband gains the credit for achievements as the first Secretary of the Treasury, Eliza made many of her own contributions to the United States of America. She spent the fifty years after her husband’s passing dedicated not only to telling his story but to the greater good of America. She is seen as one of the first female philanthropists and socialites, making many valuable contributions to the country after suffering the loss of her sister, eldest son, and father, as well as her husband, within the space of three years. Putting herself back into the narrative, Eliza was responsible for reforming the nation. In 1806, she co-founded the Orphan Asylum Society and established the first private orphanage. With her help and volunteer work, Eliza helped to care for and educated over seven-hundred children. She referred to these children as “little Alexander’s”, as a further way of honouring her husband’s legacy. The orphanage, in New York City, still stands as a family services agency named Graham Windham. As an extension of Miranda’s musical, The Eliza Project was established in 2015 and was co-founded by Phillipa Soo who played Eliza Hamilton in the Original Broadway Cast for the musical. The aim of this project is to honour Eliza’s legacy the same way that she honoured her husband’s. Working alongside the Graham Windham agency, The Eliza Project allows young people to use the arts as a form of expression. In his final letter to Eliza, Alexander Hamilton described her as the “best of wives and best of women”, and by reflecting on Eliza’s legacy, it is really made clear that she was the best of women. Not only was she proactive in raising and protecting her own family, but she honoured her husband’s narrative despite the suffer she had to endure. She gave back to the nation that she grew up in, through helping orphaned children to grow in a way that would not have been possible in their circumstances. Her legacy is remembered through the work of The Eliza Project, that would not have been possible without the dedication of this forgotten woman of the Revolutionary era.
Ancestry UK
Eliza Hamilton: The Revolutionary Woman America Forgot

Meg Howe

Meg wrote for Edition 2, Forgotten Women of History.
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