In honor of Women’s History Month, “She Inspires Me” is a series celebrating women whose current contributions to social, political, and cultural life are making history in the present.
I will be the first to admit that my love of Hamilton: An American Musical knows no bounds. If you haven’t heard of the hit Broadway musical created by MacArthur Fellow Lin Manuel-Miranda, you should get familiar. This hip-hop musical tells the story of Founding Father, immigrant, and first U.S. Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. The show exploded onto the scene in 2015 and rapidly became a hit, earning the adoration and respect of everyone from Barack Obama to Beyoncé.
One of the reasons Hamilton broke Broadway records is because the show’s producers refused to acquiesce to the age-old (read: racist) idea that actors need to look a certain way to portray historical figures. Nearly every member of the Hamilton cast is a person of color. It’s beautiful. Hamilton is Puerto Rican and George Washington is Black. Get on board or go home. At every turn, Hamilton refuses to center white people.
And it doesn’t stop there. Based on the title of the show, you might think the most important character is Alexander Hamilton. Some people do, but I don’t. Alexander Hamilton is obviously important to the story, but this show is about women. Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, and her sisters, Angelica and Peggy, were miles ahead of the men in their life. So when casting began, Lin did what we would all do:
“Who should I pick to play three awesome feminists from the 1800s?”
“Oh, I know. Three brilliant women of color!”
With that, three feminist icons were born.
Angelica Schuyler, portrayed by Renée Elise Goldsberry
“…when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’mma compel him to include women in the sequel.”
“Include women in the sequel.” That feminist battle cry was a gift from Angelica Schuyler, the eldest sister in the trio. Angelica is the Queen Bey of Hamilton. She’s smarter than literally everyone around her. She’s outspoken, strategic, and brave. When she realizes the Revolutionary War is coming, she’s like “More ideas, more freedom, let’s do this.” She’s never satisfied with the mediocrity around her (literally never). Oh, and men think that she’s too intense because she’s a feminist.
Elizabeth Schuyler, portrayed by Philippa Soo
“Grind to the rhythm as we wine and dine, grab my sister and whisper, ‘Yo, this one’s mine.’
Oh, Eliza! “Helpless” might be her signature song, but she is anything but. Eliza does exactly what she wants. She falls in love with Hamilton and marries him despite the fact that he’s basically penniless. She raises her son to be a brilliant piano player and beatboxes during his songs. She’s smart and caring, but she’s also not to be trifled with. She writes directly to her husband’s boss when she wants him to come home from war. And when Hamilton has an affair, she burns his stuff. She’s an all-around BAMF.
Peggy Schuyler, portrayed by Jasmine Cephas-Jones
She only shows up for the first half of the show, but Peggy’s mere presence makes the show better. She’s the quintessential baby sister: loving, caring, and constantly ignored. She spends most of the show living her best life with her sisters. And when people try to pass her over, she lets them know what’s what.
The Schuyler Sisters are revolutionary. Not only did Renée, Philippa, and Jasmine reclaim the stories of oppressed and oppressive women, they also asserted the right of women of color to own any space and any story. They made history with these roles, literally echoing their own lines from the show. And they are still doing it. They made history last February when they sang at the Super Bowl and casually added “and sisterhood” to “America the Beautiful.” These women remind me that women — especially women of color — are making history every. single. day. Even as we wrestle with racism, sexism, and bigotry of every kind, we still get things done, and the world is better for it.
So this Women’s History Month, when the world decides to target me simply for being a Black woman, I’mma channel the spirit of the Schuyler Sisters. I will not let anyone grind me down.