General

Schuyler Center’s connection with Hamilton

A cynic could think that Schuyler Center’s “Hamilton fever” is opportunistic. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Many of us on the staff are head-over heels Hamilton fans, harboring dreams of receiving a personal invitation (and tickets) from composer/playwright/actor Lin Manuel Miranda himself.

In fact, Schuyler Center’s connection with Alexander and Eliza Hamilton is real, as is our pride in that connection. It is not a stretch to say that the Schuyler Center is carrying on some of the finest aspects of our foreparents’ legacy – particularly that of Eliza.

Let’s jump to the end of the show when Eliza sings with quiet pride about what she considers to be her greatest legacy: “the orphanage, the orphanage.” Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, widowed abruptly at the age of 47 when Alexander Hamilton was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel, would live for another fifty years, reaching the age of 97. When Alexander died, Eliza was left impoverished, and with several of their seven surviving children still young. And yet, she did not withdraw from her engagement with the world. Instead, she became a leader in her own right – devoting much of her time and resources to charitable work to aid orphans and individuals experiencing homelessness. Among her proudest achievements – at least according to the musical – was founding New York’s first orphanage.

Schuyler Center’s founder, Louisa Lee Schuyler, seems to have been cut from the same cloth as her great-grandmother Eliza. She was fully engaged in the world, and her life’s work was to improve the health and well-being of individuals living in poverty. What gives us even greater pride: Louisa leveraged her talent, wealth and privilege not to simply help individual families endure poverty or illness, but to reform and build systems to reduce and prevent poverty and ill health. She did that by forming “citizen brigades” – groups of New Yorkers who toured the state’s almshouses and then went to Albany and other seats of power, told the story of the horrid conditions they observed, and demanded reforms. As SCAA Executive Director, Homer Folks remarked after Louisa died “She didn’t build a Schuyler Home for Children; she preferred to influence and develop community and State.”

Today, when we are in the Capitol grossly outnumbered by hundreds of lobbyists representing impossibly well-resourced corporate clients, we sometimes despair of how we will get New York leaders to prioritize the needs of politically powerless children and low-income families. At these moments, we draw strength from our legacy – of Louisa and her “citizen brigades” telling the story of the alms-houses with unflagging persistence and determination, not stopping until they achieved real change.

*photo credit goes to Proctors