Like many nerds out there, I’ve fallen in love with Hamilton over the past year or so. Generally speaking, I self-identify with Angelica Schuyler Church, and I love the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda allows this strong woman to be, well, strong. The play’s Angelica speaks her mind-as she did historically, and is not intimidated by much of anything. I find myself connecting to her wit, to her desire to the make the world a better place, and to her attraction to intelligent conversation and companionship.
But while Angelica is the most vocal strong woman in the musical, she is not by any stretch of the imagination the only strong woman. Her younger sister, Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler Hamilton, is equally strong, but she shows that in a different way than her sister does. Eliza shows her strength more through her actions than words. However, there is great beauty in Eliza both as a character in the play and as a historical figure.
I’ve been struck recently by the way in which Miranda has Angelica describe her sister. “You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind.” That’s a pretty impressive description. She is a remarkably kind person, and that’s undoubtedly something that both Angelica and Alexander see in her. Eliza’s kindness is one of her strengths-as a wife, a sister, and a mother. Her kindness motivates her behavior during the action of the play and the way in which she perpetuates her husband’s legacy in the fifty years between his passing and hers.
Angelica is an immensely passionate woman, and her passion motivates her to action. She is interested in the Revolution. She reads things that were not acceptable for women to read at the time. She wants to include women in the liberty that the Revolution will procure. She speaks her mind freely. She is a unique and wonderful woman.
But her sister is equally wonderful. Eliza and Alexander move to marriage quickly, and she works to be a good wife to the man with whom she has fallen hopelessly in love. It is clearly not easy to be a newlywed in the midst of a war, but Eliza tries. She continually reminds her husband that she (and later their children) exists, and his family needs him. In many ways, Eliza’s quiet persistence is what Alexander needs. He is a strong willed man who can have tunnel vision, but his wife doesn’t just let him go off and forget about his family when the Afterbirth of a Nation consumes him.
That quiet persistence remains one of Eliza’s leading features throughout her marriage. She doesn’t have down and out fights with Alexander; she knows that she’d have no success there. Instead, she keeps her counsel and waits patiently for her husband to remember his duties. This isn’t to say that she never gets mad at him. She is furious with him when he cheats on her, and he deserves the wrath she issues. They may not have terminated their marriage, but at least from what we see in the play, it is no longer a real marriage but rather just a social facade to appease society.
Some might say that it is their shared grief after the death of their first born child, Philip Schuyler Hamilton, that saved their marriage. It decidedly contributed. But another contributing factor is Eliza’s patience with Alexander’s attempts to win her heart back. She lets him woo her. She allows him to come back into her heart and her bed. Eliza is almost perpetually with her husband.
Eliza did have to take action ultimately. After her husband’s death, she had to be the head of their household. She had to make active choices rather than reacting to her husband and only making decisions that internally impact the household. She acts well when she has to, but this is not what she would have chosen as a younger woman.
Eliza Hamilton serves as a reminder that while there is a need for strong, outspoken women like her sister, there is also a need for women who take action in quieter, less obvious ways. Our world desperately needs the outspoken (I hate that word; it’s so negative.) activists like Angelica, but we also need the women who work quietly behind the scenes like Eliza. Quiet action has its value and place, and it should not be mistaken for subservience. Some women are meant to be activists in public or obvious ways while others are not. For example, I do not like being the public face of anything, but that does not mean that I’m sitting back and letting the world pass me by. I prefer to act behind the scenes, in less obvious ways. Eliza reminds me that this is okay.
I think that we need both Angelicas and Elizas in our world. We also need to make sure that both of these kinds of women are supported and encouraged. We cannot tear one group of women down in order to build up the other. To me, one of the greatest strengths of Hamilton is that it puts these two types of women front and center in such a way as to allow us to see the complementary nature of their strengths rather than seeing them as opponents. We need to see this more often; we need to encourage women to work together in such a way as to support their strengths. If it worked for Angelica and Eliza, it can work for us.