In many modern portrayals of the Hamilton story, including the most famous one, the 2015 musical, Eliza Hamilton's story is only told as far as her husband's goes. She is rarely given credit for the 50 years she survived Alexander. While those years were spent in widow's black, Eliza was not still or complacent in her mourning. Besides vowing to see the memory of her husband honored and his legacy remembered, Eliza was a pioneer in expanding the domestic sphere of American women to include charitable work that made a significant impact in communities. After Alexander's death in 1804, Eliza began her own story.
The following excerpts from Women of the American Revolution:
"Eliza forged ahead, creating a life of her own for the first time. In 1805, she joined the board of the New York Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, joining the ranks of women in the early nineteenth century in branching out from their homes to help form and improve society through benevolence. In March 1806, she was one of a group of women who formed the New York Orphan Asylum Society, as many of the small children of poor widows inevitably became orphans. Eliza perhaps also contemplated Alexander’s youth as an underprivileged orphan and transferred some of her love for him to young people in need."
Her example had a strong influence on her children, who ranged from 2-19 years old at the time of their father's death.
"Her son, James, shared an anecdote of this time in his memoir. ‘She found a little fellow in the arms of a fireman whose parents had been destroyed by the burning of their house. Being an orphan, she directed the fireman to take the little “McKavit” to the Orphan Asylum, on the Bloomingdale Road, giving him the means to hire a carriage to do so, and gave him her card.’ Many years later, Eliza found this young man a position at the Military Academy. When he was killed in the Mexican American War, he left all he had to the Orphan Asylum that had cared for him. This organization exists to this day as the Graham Windham in Brooklyn."
Eliza's work did not stop there!
"Her next project was a tuition-free school that would make education accessible to all children living in the relative wilderness surrounding Hamilton Grange. In 1818, when Eliza founded the Hamilton Free School near what is now West 187th and Broadway, it was the only school north of modern day 155th Street. Eliza was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the school but stayed engaged while focusing her efforts on the orphanage. The school provided free education until the building was destroyed by fire several years after Eliza’s death. . . .
Eliza tirelessly continued her work for poor women and orphans in New York City throughout most of the last fifty years of her life, petitioning the city for grants, increasing awareness of public needs, and personally overseeing the work of the orphan asylum for many of those years. ‘She was a most earnest, energetic, and intelligent woman,’ wrote her son, James. ‘Her engagements as a principal of the Widow’s Society and Orphan Asylum were incessant. In support of these institutions she was constantly employed, and as I once playfully told her, “Mamma, you are a sturdy beggar.” She replied, “My dear son, I cannot spare myself or others; my Maker has pointed out this duty to me, and has given me the ability and inclination to perform it.”’ "
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