In the final song of Hamilton: An American Musical, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” Eliza Hamilton wonders if people will remember her and her famous husband, Alexander. After her husband died, she spoke out against slavery and raised money to build the Washington Monument, but she says her proudest accomplishment has been helping to establish the first private orphanage in New York City, now known as Graham Windham. “In their eyes I see you, Alexander,” she sings to her dead husband, once an orphan himself. “I see you every time.”
Now, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will play a part in telling her story. A portrait of Elizabeth Hamilton from Graham Windham and one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton costumes joined the museum’s collections as part of its Philanthropy Initiative. The museum says it will put the costume on view next March. The donated objects, which also includes other photographs and pamphlets related to the orphanage, will help visitors understand the “whole ecosystem of philanthropy” that has developed between Hamilton and Graham Windham through The Eliza Project, says the museum's curator of the initiative Amanda B. Moniz.
“The donations will really capture the diversity of ways Americans give time, talent and treasure to philanthropic causes,” Moniz says. “Philanthropy isn’t just about giving money.”
To commemorate the donation, a panel of those involved gathered Monday morning at the museum to speak about the significance of the objects and the work being done. This included Morgan Marcell, a member of the original Hamilton cast and co-founder of The Eliza Project, a collaboration in which cast members lead artistic workshops at Graham Windham. She debuted her short documentary about the project, called Sharing Our Stories: The Eliza Project.
From the early 1900s, the mid-19th century oil painting portrait of Eliza Hamilton by Daniel P. Huntington had hung on the walls of the Graham School out of view from the public eye. The portrait captures Hamilton’s stature in her middle age in she helped to found the school in 1806, know then as the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York.
“The portrait helps us tell that story about the need for this kind of stature for women to gain acceptance as leaders in organized philanthropy,” says Moniz. “When I look at the portrait, I see someone I would take seriously as philanthropic leader.”
Up until that point, very few women in the U.S. had been doing the kind of charitable work that Hamilton and the orphanage’s cofounders were. Then, upper-class women began to run organizations that aided women and children, such as Isabella Graham’s Society for Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children. People viewed them with skepticism at first, Moniz says, because they were unsure if women “had the fortitude and perseverance to lead organized charity.” But these concerns waned quickly, and these women were able to build a legacy that has stuck around, she says.
Now a social services agency that serves youth up to age 25, Graham Windham aids 4,500 children and their families in New York City. President and CEO Jess Dannhauser says that the Eliza Project’s work at the school has helped provide an outlet for their youth to “take charge of their narratives.”
“Our kids, for their survival, have incredibly strong authenticity detectors,” Dannhauser says. “They didn’t know that these guys were stars. They learned that later. What they knew was that they were there allowing them to be themselves.”
The documentary showed the teenagers recording raps in a studio and later performing in front of an audience of family and friends. Marcell remembered other cast members encouraging the youth to write and perform songs and raps, even though some had never done that before and said they didn’t want to fail at it.
For panelist Thomas Haines, Graham Windham and Eliza's legacy of philanthropy has influenced his entire life. Now a visiting professor at Rockefeller University and a Graham Windham board member, he came to the Graham School as a 4-year-old in 1933 after his father left his mother, who was put in a mental hospital. He remembered the ten cottages on the school’s property, each named after one of the orphanage’s founders, and the house mothers who monitored their behavior. Children who behaved well could go see movies starring Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers on Saturdays, he says, and one of the board members would occasionally take a group to see the Rockettes “do their thing” at Radio City.
“We really experienced life through philanthropy,” he said, “but also with each other.”
While the portrait might not be familiar to museum-goers, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s costume will more than likely ring a few bells. During his run as the title character in Hamilton, Miranda donned the 18th-century style green silk suit, complete with breeches, a ruffled white shirt and stockings. The curators hope it will illuminate how Hamilton’s legacy lingers in the American imagination.
UPDATE: This article now includes additional reporting from the donation ceremony held November 6, 2017 at the National Museum of American History.