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Lazarus, Emma

Emma Lazarus

Born: July 22, 1849
New York, New York
Died: November 19, 1887
New York, New York

American poet

Emma Lazarus, an American poet, is best known as a spokesperson for the Jewish people. Her faith in America as a safe place for all the suffering people of the world is expressed in her poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York.

Early life and writings

Emma Lazarus was born in New York City on July 22, 1849. She was the daughter of Moses and Esther Nathan Lazarus. Her father was a wealthy sugar merchant. Emma and her sisters were educated by private tutors and spent their summers at the seashore in Rhode Island. Emma read many of the books in her father's library and quickly learned other languages, including Italian, French, and German. At the age of eleven she began writing poems with traditional romantic themes and translating the works of German and French poets.

When Emma was seventeen her father paid to have her first collection of poems printed. Poems and Translations (public edition 1867) was followed by Admetus and Other Poems (1871). These poems so pleased the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882) that he invited Lazarus to visit him, beginning a correspondence that lasted throughout her life. Lazarus also received support and advice from other male writers throughout her life, including the novelist Henry James (18431916).

Lazarus's work began appearing regularly in Lippincott's Magazine and Scribner's Monthly. In 1874 she published her first prose (a style of writing closer to normal speech than poetry), Alide: An Episode of Goethe's Life. Her five-act drama, The Spagnoletto (1876), which focuses on Italy in 1655, was not as well received as her poetry. Her translation of the German poet Heinrich Heine's (17971856) Poems and Ballads (1881) was considered the best version of Heine in English at the time.

Supporter of Jewish people

The turning point in Lazarus's life was the outbreak of violent anti-Semitism (hatred of Jewish people) in Russia and Germany during the early 1880s. When a writer defended these activities in the Century Magazine, Lazarus wrote the angry reply "Russian Christianity versus Modern Judaism" in the next issue. From this moment on she began a private crusade for her people. Her verse took on a new tone of urgency, a call for Zionism (the movement for the creation of an independent Jewish state), particularly in Songs of a Semite (1882) and in her play of twelfth-century Jewish life, The Dance to Death. More importantly, she began to organize relief efforts for the thousands of Jewish immigrants crowding into the United States and to write a series of articles for the magazine American Hebrew.

Later years

In 1883 Lazarus sailed for England, where she was received with great enthusiasm for her work on behalf of Jewish immigrants. She made so many friends among the Zionists that she returned in 1885, spending the next two years traveling in England, France, and Italy. Cancer cut her career short. She returned to New York City shortly before her death from cancer on November 19, 1887. Lazarus's poem "The New Colossus" was engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor before its dedication in 1886. The poem was a fitting tribute to her faith in American ideals.

For More Information

Lefer, Diane. Emma Lazarus. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Levinson, Nancy Smiler. I Lift My Lamp: Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty. New York: Dutton, 1986.

Merriam, Eve. Emma Lazarus Rediscovered. New York: Biblio Press, 1998.

Young, Bette Roth. Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1995.

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Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), American poet, is best known as a spokesperson for the Jewish people. Her faith in America as a haven for all the downtrodden peoples of the world is expressed in her poem in scribed on the Statue of Liberty.

Emma Lazarus was born in New York City on July 22, 1849. Her wealthy, cultured parents provided comforts and devotion, beginning with private tutors and summers at the seashore. At the age of 11 she began writing impassioned lyrics on traditional romantic themes and at 17 privately printed her first collection. Poems and Translations (public edition 1867) was followed by Admetus and Other Poems (1871). These poems so pleased Ralph Waldo Emerson that he invited Lazarus to visit him, thereby beginning a correspondence that lasted throughout her life.

Lazarus's work began appearing regularly in Lippincott's Magazine and Scribner's Monthly. In 1874 she published her first prose, Alide: An Episode of Goethe's Life. Her five-act drama, The Spagnoletto (1876), focuses on Italy in 1655, but as playwright she had more fervor than talent. Poetry was her true métier. Her translation of Heinrich Heine's Poems and Ballads (1881) was considered the best version of Heine in English at the time.

The turning point in Lazarus's life was the outbreak of violent anti-Semitism in Russia and Germany during the early 1880s. When a journalist defended these pogroms in the Century Magazine, Lazarus wrote the fervent reply "Russian Christianity versus Modern Judaism" in the next issue. From this moment she began a private crusade for her people. Her verse took on a new note of urgency, a call to Zionism, particularly in Songs of a Semite (1882) and in her play of 12th-century Jewish life, The Dance to Death. More importantly, she began to organize relief efforts for the thousands of immigrants crowding into Ward's Island and to write a series of articles for the magazine American Hebrew.

In 1883 Lazarus sailed for England, where she was received with great enthusiasm for her work in behalf of Jewish immigrants. She made so many friends among the Zionists that she returned in 1885, spending the next 2 years traveling in England, France, and Italy. Cancer cut her career short. She returned to New York City shortly before her death on Nov. 19, 1887. Lazarus's sonnet "The New Colossus" was engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor before the dedication in 1886; it was a fitting commemoration of her faith in American ideals.

Further Reading

The Poems of Emma Lazarus (2 vols., 1889), the standard text, includes a biographical sketch by her sister. More recent is Emma Lazarus: Selections from Her Poetry and Prose, edited by Morris U. Schappes (1944; 3d ed. 1967). See also H. E. Jacob, The World of Emma Lazarus (1949), and Eve Merriam, Emma Lazarus: Woman with a Torch (1956).

Additional Sources

Angoff, Charles, Emma Lazarus, poet, Jewish activist, pioneer Zionist, New York: Jewish Historical Society of New York, 1979.

Young, Bette Roth, Emma Lazarus in her world: life and letters, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1995. □

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Lazarus, Emma

Emma Lazarus, 1849–87, American poet and essayist, b. New York City. Her early verse includes Admetus and Other Poems (1871) and The Spagnoletto (1876), a poetic drama. Enraged by the Russian pogroms of the 1880s, she became an impassioned spokeswoman for Judaism, writing many essays and the book of poems, Songs of a Semite (1882), which contains her best work. Her sonnet about the Statue of Liberty, "The New Colossus," was engraved on the statue's pedestal. Her other work includes translations of Heine.

See biographies by C. Angoff (1979) and E. Schor (2006).

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Lazarus, Emma

LAZARUS, EMMA

LAZARUS, EMMA (1849–1887), U.S. poet, essayist, and activist. Lazarus was born in New York on July 22, 1849, to Moses Lazarus, a wealthy industrialist of Sephardi heritage, and his wife Esther Nathan Lazarus of Ashkenazi background. Both sides of her family had been in America since the Revolution. Lazarus, who was educated at home by private tutors, was originally attracted to classical and romantic art and literature. During the course of her career, she struck up tutelary relationships with important male writers, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson, and including Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Henry James. Her early works included Poems and Translations: Written Between the Ages of Fourteen and Sixteen, published privately by her father in 1867, a novel Alide: An Episode of Goethe's Life (1874), and a historical tragedy, The Spagnoletto (1876), as well as a translation of poems by Heinrich *Heine, accompanied by a biographical study. By the time she wrote her best-known poem, "The New Colossus" (1883), a hymn to America, the "Mother of Exiles," she had repudiated the glorification of male conquering power, aestheticism, and empty ceremony and asserted instead the power of womanhood, the comfort of motherhood, and the Hebraic prophetic values of compassion and consolation. Lazarus began her return to Jewish tradition in the late 1870s, studying Hebrew and reading Graetz's History of the Jews and George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda, with its plea for a Jewish national revival. Lazarus began to publish translations of the medieval Spanish-Jewish poets, *Judah Halevi, Solomon ibn *Gabirol, and others. The Russian pogroms of 1881 and the May Laws of 1882 fired both her social consciousness and her poetic imagination, prompting a series of essays in American journals, especially in Century Magazine (May 1882), where she replied to an antisemitic article by a Russian journalist, Madame Z. Ragozin. "The Dance Unto Death," a verse tragedy about the burning of the Jews of Nordhausen during the Black Death appeared in Songs of a Semite (1882), dedicated to George Eliot, "the illustrious writer who did most among the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit of Jewish Nationality." Lazarus's series of 14 essays, ironically entitled "Epistle to the Hebrews," written from November 1882 to February 1883, were intended to "bring before the Jewish public… facts and critical observations… to arouse a more logical and intelligent estimate of the duties of the hour." Lazarus also involved herself in the practical work of helping new immigrants adjust to America, founding the Hebrew Technical Institute for Vocational Training. In 1883 she sailed to London, armed with letters of introduction from Henry James to well-placed people in England, Jews and non-Jews, who might help her in her effort towards the establishment of a Jewish national home-land. A decade before Theodore *Herzl launched the Zionist movement, Lazarus argued in poetry and prose for Palestine as a safe haven for oppressed Jews everywhere. Lazarus, who never married, died of cancer at the age of 38. After her death, her sister, Josephine Lazarus, prohibited the inclusion of "anything Jewish" in the collected edition of her works that appeared in 1889. "The New Colossus," with its famous image of "huddled masses yearning to breathe free," was engraved on a memorial plaque and affixed to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903.

bibliography:

C.S. Kessner, "From Parnassus to Mount Zion: The Journey of Emma Lazarus," in: Jewish Book Annual (1986–87); Idem, "The Emma Lazarus-Henry James Connection: Eight Letters," in: American Literary History, 3 (1991). D. Lichtenstein, Writing Their Nations: The Traditions of Nineteenth Century American Jewish Women Writers (1992); R. Rusk (ed.), Letters to Emma Lazarus in the Columbia University Library (1939); M. Schappes (ed.), The Letters of Emma Lazarus, 186885 (1949). B. Roth Young, Emma Lazarus in the World: Life and Letters (1995).

[Carole S. Kessner (2nd ed.)]

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Lazarus, Emma

3
Emma Lazarus

"The New Colossus"

Available at The Academy of American Poets (Web site); poem engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …"

While attending a dinner party in France in 1865, French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904) and his host, French scholar É douard-René Lefebvre de Laboulaye (1811–1883), conceived the idea to give the United States a monument to commemorate the country's first centennial (one hundred years) as a free nation.

Construction of the monument began in 1875, and in 1877, America began fund-raising efforts to collect the money needed to build a pedestal (foundation) on which a 450,000-pound (204,300-kilogram) copper and steel statue would stand. American architect Richard Morris Hunt (1828–1885) was hired to design and build the pedestal. The cement foundation weighed 27,000 tons (24,489 metric tons).

Building of the statue was completed in Paris, France, in June 1884, but the pedestal was still a work in progress. Early in 1885, with the completion of the pedestal, "Liberty Enlightening the World" was dismantled and shipped to America in 350 pieces. The statue, which became known as Lady Liberty, arrived on Liberty Island in New York and was placed on Ellis Island, the primary immigration port for European immigrants. The pedestal and statue were assembled in 1886, ten years after the original target date. On October 28 of that year, President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97) accepted the Statue of Liberty and dedicated her in an official ceremony.

As part of America's fund-raising efforts, Jewish poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) composed a sonnet (a fourteen-line lyric poem, written using a distinct rhythm and rhyme) to be awarded to the highest bidder at an art auction. The poem, called "The New Colossus," reflected Lazarus's understanding of the role America played in the hopes of immigrants (people who move permanently to another country) in the late nineteenth century. Written in 1883, "The New Colossus" was engraved on a plaque and attached to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903.

Statue of Liberty Facts

  • There are seven spikes in the crown, representative of the seven continents or the seven seas.
  • At a windspeed of 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) per hour, the statue sways up to 3 inches (7.62 centimeters). The torch sways 5 inches (12.7 centimeters).
  • If the statue was fitted for a pair of sandals, she would wear U.S. women's size 879.
  • The Statue of Liberty measures 111 feet, 1 inch (33.86 meters) from her heel to the top of her head.
  • The statue holds a tablet in her left hand. On that tablet is inscribed the date July 4, 1776, in Roman numerals, the day America declared its independence from Britain.

Lazarus herself was a fourth-generation member of a Jewish immigrant family. Although she was born into a family of wealth, her father was more concerned with integrating his family into Christian society than he was with honoring his Jewish ethnicity and religion. Although the Lazarus family associated with New York's elite (upper class), Emma sensed the hostility that lay underneath the seeming civility toward and tolerance of her family. According to the Jewish Women's Archive Web site, in an 1883 letter to friend Philip Cowen, Lazarus wrote, "I am perfectly conscious that this contempt and hatred underlies the general tone of the community toward us. …" She knew from experience what it felt like to be an outsider in America.

Immigration began in great numbers in the 1860s. People flocked to America from across the globe, but the largest immigrant populations came from Germany and Ireland. Immigrants left their homes for various reasons. Some were escaping intolerable levels of poverty; others wanted better jobs and the chance for brighter futures for themselves and their children. Still others were hoping to escape oppression (harsh treatment). Regardless of where they sailed from, the voyage to America was long. Europeans had to endure disgusting ship conditions for fourteen days in the late 1860s. For those who crossed the ocean forty years later, the voyages were reduced to five-and-a-half days.

Immigration was changing America forever. Urban areas became overpopulated, and crowded living conditions imposed serious risks from disease and crime on entire populations. Industrialization created more jobs than ever before, but the majority of them did not pay well. Poverty increased, despite the availability of jobs. As more immigrants arrived, wages decreased when employers realized there now was an abundance of labor willing to work for outrageously low wages. Immigrants were grateful to find work of any kind, and they were willing to do the dangerous and backbreaking jobs other Americans refused.

Many native-born Americans resented the presence of immigrants. They viewed them as simply foreigners who had no pride and stole jobs. Language was a barrier to communication, and nearly all immigrants brought with them habits, customs, and values not always in keeping with those of native-born Americans. Many Americans believed it was one thing to be forced to live among foreigners, quite another to have jobs—even those considered too shameful to accept—taken away.

Things to remember while reading
"The New Colossus":

  • Lazarus wrote the sonnet at the request of a friend who was organizing an art auction to raise money for a pedestal on which to mount the Statue of Liberty. The author had no intention of the poem being immortalized at the base of the monument. She

    Emma Lazarus: A Portrait of Success

    Most of Emma Lazarus's friends were Christian. Although she was accepted into high-class society, they never let her forget her roots. They referred to her as a "Jewess." Lazarus realized she would forever be an outsider.

    Long before she penned "The New Colossus," Lazarus was writing poetry. In 1868, she sent a copy of her first book of poetry (which her father had published) to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), one of the country's most famous essayists, poets, and philosophers. The two began a lifelong friendship. Lazarus visited Emerson at his home in Concord, Massachusetts, several times.

    Lazarus's second book of poems was published in 1871 to much critical praise. Throughout the decade, she published many poems and essays in popular magazines. By 1882, more than fifty of her poems and translations of others' poems had been printed in these periodicals. Her best reviews came in 1881, upon publication of her translation of the works of German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine (1797–1856). Lazarus identified with Heine's expression of his Jewish identity. Both writers felt the effect of their Jewish backgrounds on their pursuit of artistic creativity.

    Lazarus was a woman writer in an era when women writers were not celebrated or respected. Her struggle was made even more difficult because she was a Jewish woman. Despite the obstacles in her path, Lazarus used her writing to speak out on Jewish themes, especially from 1882 to 1883. The 1880s were years of harsh anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews) in Eastern Europe. Massive violent attacks against Russian Jews took place throughout the region, and thousands of men, women, and children were murdered. Others were left to starve to death. These attacks, called pogroms, lasted for more than three years and were supported at times by the authorities. In fact, the Jews themselves were blamed for the riots, and restrictions against them were intensified.

    The pogroms caused many Russian Jews to flee to America. Lazarus acted as a spokesperson for these displaced refugees. She became an advocate for these frightened immigrants, and formed the Society for the Improvement and Colonization of East European Jews in 1883.

    Lazarus died at the age of thirty-eight, from what twenty-first-century doctors believe was probably cancer. Her memory continues to inspire Jewish activists throughout the world.

    was merely asked to write something that would be included in a portfolio of works by famous writers. She used her experience working with immigrants at a settlement house (an organization that offers aid to the needy) as inspiration for her poem.
  • Lazarus died sixteen years before her poem was displayed on the Statue of Liberty pedestal.
  • The engraved plaque initially hung on a second-floor inner wall of the building housing the pedestal. In 1945, the plaque was moved to the main entrance of the Statue of Liberty.
  • Before the engraving, banker Samuel Ward Gray (1817–1907) wanted the phrase "wretched refuse" changed. The word "refuse" refers to something discarded as worthless. Gray, who was also a cofounder of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, felt the phrase was condescending (spoken as if immigrants were inferior). In the end, Lazarus's poem was left exactly as it had been written.

"The New Colossus"

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,  
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lighting, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon -hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! " cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door! "

What happened next …

As Lazarus's sonnet gained notice, scholars began to explain it as a direct reflection of the author's own experiences. For example, rather than judging the phrase "wretched refuse" as being insulting to immigrants, readers came to understand that Lazarus was not condescending, but rather, pointing out the prejudices native-born Americans would harbor against immigrants. This image, compared with the compassion Lazarus shows in the phrase "huddled masses yearning to breathe free," eventually came to be seen as an expression of the conflict of identity and ideals surrounding the phenomenon of immigration. The poem instilled in its readers an appreciation for the underlying tensions between freedom and oppression, speech and silence, ancient and modern. It came to be considered an appropriately powerful piece of literature.

Between 1900 and 1915, fifteen million immigrants sailed to America's shores, more than in the previous forty years combined. They accounted for nearly one-third of the country's population growth of that time. As feelings of nativism (anti-immigration) grew, more restrictions were placed on immigrants. The Immigration Act passed in 1907 increased the amount (called a head tax) paid per immigrant to $4. Prior to 1907, only immigrants with contagious diseases or who had been convicted of certain crimes were refused admission to America. The law of 1907 added more categories to the inadmissible list. Under the new restrictions, immigrants unable to enter America included those with physical or mental disabilities that would prohibit them from finding jobs; those considered imbeciles (persons who had moderate to severe mental disabilities); unaccompanied children; anyone diagnosed with tuberculosis (a contagious lung disease); those considered feeble-minded (learning disabled); and women who intended to become prostitutes (sellers of sex).

In the Immigration Act of 1917, more restrictions would be passed, including a literacy test that required all immigrants age sixteen and older to be able to read and write in their native language, if not in English. Many immigrants never had the chance to learn to read or write before leaving home, and the U.S. federal government knew that. That same law prohibited nearly all Asians, not just the Chinese, from entering the United States. As the years passed, restrictions laws would become even more harsh. In 1965, the number of immigrants allowed from the Eastern hemisphere was 170,000, and from the Western hemisphere, 120,000. Although ceilings (maximum numbers of immigrants accepted) were eventually raised, by the late twentieth century, more restrictions were imposed in an effort to curb illegal immigration.

Did you know …

  • In 1910, three-fourths of New York City's population were immigrants or first-generation Americans (sons and daughters of immigrants). In the twenty-first century, over 40 percent of the U.S. population are descendents of the 17 million immigrants that entered America through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954.
  • Lazarus's "The New Colossus" sold for $1,500 at the auction, more than any other piece of literature in the portfolio.
  • The Statue of Liberty was declared a national monument in 1924.
  • Ellis Island was shut down permanently as an immigration port in 1954. After extensive restoration, it reopened in 1990 as a museum and national monument.

Consider the following …

  • In what ways would America be different today if immigrants had never arrived during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era?
  • Imagine you are the age you are now and have just arrived in America from Europe. What would be the five most difficult changes for you to adapt to?
  • If you emigrated to a foreign country and were not able to read or write your own language, what stories about your family would you orally pass down to your children so that they did not forget their history?

For More Information

BOOKS

Felder, Deborah G., and Diana Rosen. Fifty Jewish Women Who Changed the World. New York: Citadel Press, 2003.

Hollander, John, ed. Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems. New York: Library of America, 2005.

Merriam, Eve. Emma Lazarus Rediscovered. New York: Biblio Press, 1998.

Moore, H. S. Liberty's Poet: Emma Lazarus. Austin, TX: TurnKey Press, 2005.

Moreno, Barry. The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Sandler, Martin W. Island of Hope: The Story of Ellis Island and the Journey to America. New York: Scholastic, 2004.

WEB SITES

"The Agendas Behind the Monuments." American Studies at the University of Virginia.http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/LIBERTY/politics.html (accessed on July 18, 2006).

Lazarus, Emma. "The New Colossus." The Academy of American Poets.http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16111 (accessed on August 9, 2006).

"The Light of Liberty." National Geographic Kids.http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngkids/9907/liberty/liberty.html (accessed on July 18, 2006).

The Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.http://www.ellisisland.org/ (accessed on July 18, 2006).

"Women of Valor: Emma Lazarus." Jewish Women's Archive.http://www.jwa.org/exhibits/wov/lazarus/el1.html (accessed on July 18, 2006).

Brazen giant of Greek fame:
The Colossus of Rhodes, a gigantic bronze statue that stood at the entrance to the Greek island of Rhodes in 282 bce.
Conquering limbs astride from land to land:
A reference to the myth that the legs of the Colossus straddled both sides of the harbor.
Imprisoned:
Interior.
Exiles:
People who cannot return home.
Beacon:
Guiding light.
Air-bridged harbor:
East River with the Brooklyn Bridge spanning the banks.
Twin cities:
Brooklyn and New York City.
Storied:
Celebrated.
Pomp:
Elegance.
Yearning:
Longing.
Wretched refuse:
Miserable waste.
Teeming:
Overflowing (with people).
Tempest-tost:
Storm-tossed.
Golden door:
Opportunity.

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Lazarus, Emma

LAZARUS, Emma

Born 22 July 1849, New York, New York; died 19 November 1887, New York, New York

Daughter of Moses and Esther Nathan Lazarus

Emma Lazarus was privately educated and revealed an early gift for poetry and languages. Although the family was part of the cultivated and fashionable New York society—her father was a wealthy industrialist—Lazarus had little contact with literary groups until her twenties, when she met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who served as a sometime literary mentor. Trips to Europe brought her into contact with English writers and thinkers.

Lazarus' Poems and Translations (1867), published when she was just eighteen, contains translations of Hugo, Dumas, Schiller, and Heine, as well as original poems dealing with conventionally romantic subjects. The title poem in Admetus, and Other Poems (1871), dedicated to Emerson, retells in blank verse the myth of Alcestis, whose strength and courage saved her husband from death. In Lazarus' version, the heroic willingness of Alcestis to sacrifice herself as the substitute the Fates had demanded becomes the crucial incident, and the portrait is a significant advance in the depiction of women in romantic poetry. In another poem, "Epochs," Lazarus personifies work as a woman. The maturity of Lazarus' thinking is reflected in "Heroes," which stresses the problems of the aftermath of war, rather than the presumed glory of the battlefield.

Lazarus' studies led her to an interest in Goethe; the novel Alide (1874) is based on an incident in his life. Turgenev praised the work, which considers the artist's quandary in choosing between ordinary life and the demands of his art. Poems and Translations of Heinrich Heine (1881) is Lazarus' major achievement as a translator; in many instances her rendition is the definitive English version still in use today. Although translations of Heine's poems were among her earliest works, this volume contains for the first time Heine's poems on specifically Jewish subjects, on which Lazarus worked in the 1870s. Particularly effective is her translation of the ironic "Donna Clara," in which the insouciant charm of the ballad form clashes with the mock revenge against the rabid anti-Semite.

The pogroms in Russia and the mass immigration of refugees to the U.S. mobilized Lazarus' energetic support of her people. Songs of a Semite (1882) was issued in an inexpensive edition so that it might reach as wide an audience as possible. Along with ballads, sonnets, and translations of Hebrew poets, it contains one of her finest works, The Dance to Death. In this verse drama, Lazarus tells the tragic events of a pogrom in the 14th century and portrays a stirring affirmation of the life and spirit of the persecuted people: "Even as we die in honor, from our death / Shall bloom a myriad of heroic lives, / Brave through our bright example, virtuous / Lest our great memory fall in disrepute."

Lazarus also relied on prose to explain the position of the Jewish people. While only a few selections are available in book form, these essays represent one of Lazarus' greatest accomplishments, explaining in sharp, incisive fashion the attainments of the Jewish people, their heroics and their contributions to the contemporary world, and—even at this early date—calling for the formation of a Jewish state.

Lazarus' essays on other topics are equally valuable, although they, too, are buried in the periodicals of the day. Her strong humanitarian spirit led her to readings in socialism, and a visit to William Morris' workshops in England is described in warm, affectionate terms. An essay on Longfellow, while pointing out the flaws in his work, calls for a specifically American literature, rather than one dependent on the English tradition.

The last few years of Lazarus' short life were wracked by cancer; she nonetheless produced By the Waters of Babylon (1887), a series of prose poems using the long, sweeping line reminiscent of Walt Whitman and full of prophetic fire. Lazarus' fame today rests largely on the sonnet "The New Colossus," which was written to raise money for a base for the Statue of Liberty, and which, as James Russell Lowell said, gave it its spiritual basis. But consideration of her entire literary output leads to a more far-reaching appreciation. From a shy, sensitive girl writing on romantic topics in a stilted diction, she became a mature artist, an impassioned supporter of her people, of the downtrodden of all nations, and of her own country and its literary accomplishments.

Other Works:

The Spagnoletto: a Drama in Verse (1876). The Poems of Emma Lazarus (1889). The Letters of Emma Lazarus, 1868-1885 (edited by M. U. Schappes, 1949). Emma Lazarus: Selections from Her Poetry and Prose (edited by M. U. Schappes, 1967).

Bibliography:

Baym, M. I., A Neglected Translator of Italian Poetry: Emma Lazarus (1956). Fried, L., ed., Handbook of Jewish-American Literature (1988). Harap, L., The Image of the Jew in American Literature (1974). Kaye-Kantrowitz, M. and I. Klepfisc, eds., The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women's Anthology (1989). Merriam, E., Emma Lazarus, Woman with a Torch (1956). Merriam, E., The Voice of Liberty: The Story of Emma Lazarus (1956). Rothenberg, J., ed., The Big Jewish Book (1978). Rusk, R., Letters of Emma Lazarus in the Columbia University Library (1939). Schappes, M. U., Emma Lazarus: Selections from Her Poetry and Prose (1967). Scharf, L., and J. M. Jenson, eds., Decades of Discontent: The Women's Movement, 1920-1940 (1983). Schwartz, H. and A. Rudolf, eds., Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets (1980).

Reference works:

AA. AW. DAB. NAW. NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Poet Lore (1893). Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (Sept. 1952, June 1956).

—CAROL B. SCHOEN

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Lazarus, Emma

Emma Lazarus

Born July 22, 1849

New York, New York

Died November 19, 1887

New York, New York

Author of the famous poem that appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, and Jewish rights advocate

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…"

I f Emma Lazarus had done nothing else in life, writing the poem "The New Colossus" would have preserved her name in American history. Engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (see entry in volume 2) in New York Harbor, the poem seems to capture the spirit of the woman holding a torch aloft, as if to light the way for the flood of European immigrants streaming into the United States when the lines were written in 1883: "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. / I lift my lamp beside the golden door." The facts that lie behind the poem, and its author, reveal the much greater complexities of immigration to the United States.

Growing up in New York

Emma Lazarus grew up in a privileged household in New York City. Her family was descended from Sephardic Jews, a large community that lived in Spain and Portugal during the Middle Ages (about 500–1400). In 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) discovered the Western Hemisphere on a voyage paid for by the king and queen of Spain, the Jews were expelled from Spain, part of a program by the Catholic Church to ensure that everyone accepted the same religion. At first, some Jews went to neighboring Portugal, but they were also expelled from that country. Eventually, some Sephardic Jews traveled to the Portuguese colony of Brazil, and from there some made their way to New York years before the American Revolution of 1776.

In Spain, the Sephardic Jews had been integrated into the larger society, unlike Jews in northern Europe, notably Germany, who had been forced to live apart from the Christian population. One result was that Sephardic Jews expected to participate in the society around them, and Emma Lazarus's family was no exception. Her father, Moses Lazarus, was a wealthy businessman who had friends in the upper class of New York City society. He belonged to exclusive social clubs, such as the Union Club, and built an elaborate summer house in Newport, Rhode Island, where other socially prominent New York families also owned homes.

Emma Lazarus did not attend school; her education was provided by private tutors hired by her father. She grew up in a family that valued culture—painting, music, and literature—and she took pride in her heritage, which reached back to a time when Spain was a scientific and cultural leader. But as she was growing up, winds of change were blowing across the Atlantic and through the streets of New York.

The surge in immigration

Starting just a few years before Lazarus was born, a new surge of immigrants had started coming to the United States, and to New York in particular. These were Germans who had been hurt by both widespread crop failures and by political unrest that resulted from the rapid growth of industry in Germany. From Ireland came another enormous wave of immigrants, driven from their land by the failure of the potato crop, the main source of food. Unlike most earlier immigrants to the United States, Protestants who had come from England and Scotland, many of the new immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s were Catholics. Most were poor. In the case of the Irish, some families had spent their last money on buying tickets to sail to New York in order to escape death by starvation. This new wave of poor, Catholic immigrants disturbed some Americans, who feared that the Catholic Church would try to exert influence over American politics by directing the votes of Irish immigrants who became citizens. Anti-Catholic riots occurred in several East Coast cities, and Catholic churches were attacked and burned.

A movement of native-born Americans who called themselves Know Nothings (because, when asked about their movement, they replied: "I know nothing") began campaigning for restrictions on immigration, a much longer waiting period to become a citizen, and a ban on foreign-born people holding public office. In California, where large numbers of Chinese had arrived looking for gold during the California Gold Rush of 1848, similar anti-immigrant sentiments arose, directed against the Chinese.

In most respects, Lazarus was little affected by the rising tide of religious intolerance. Most of her friends were Christians, and her immediate family was even shunned by other members of the Sephardic Jewish community for their failure to observe the practices and customs of Judaism (the religion of Jews, who believe in the Old Testament of the Bible). In the meantime, Lazarus was building a reputation as a writer and a poet. When she was sixteen, her father paid to publish a collection of her poems, Poems and Translations Written Between the Ages of Fourteen and Seventeen. Critics kindly described the poems of the sort often written by young women of Lazarus's age. Nevertheless, the self-confident Lazarus sent a copy to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) in Concord, Massachusetts, who was one of the most prominent American poets then living. He replied, and Lazarus and Emerson maintained a long correspondence, marked by at least two invitations by Emerson for Lazarus to visit him at his home.

Lazarus published a second book of poems, Admetus and Other Poems, in 1871, and it received more positive reviews. The Illustrated London News said she was "a poet of rare original power." Lazarus continued publishing books, including a novel, Alide: An Episode in Goethe's Life, published in 1874, as well as a steady stream of poems published in popular magazines. In 1876, Lazarus completed a play, The Spagnoletto, which was privately published but never performed. In addition to her collections of poems, Lazarus also published magazine articles about the arts and literature. She occasionally toured Europe. Her name was well known and respected among the important writers of the era.

Despite her success and acceptance, she was aware of a social undercurrent of anti-Semitism, or anti-Jew, an attitude that came to the surface in the summer of 1877. In Saratoga, New York, a fashionable summer resort for New Yorkers, the owner of the Grand Union Hotel refused to accept as a guest Joseph Seligman (1819–1880), a well-known Jewish banker from New York. The hotel owner, Judge Henry Hilton (1824–1899), explained that he thought Christians did not want to stay in the same hotel as Jews, and that this was hurting his business. It was an era before laws prohibited discrimination, and although the hotel owner insisted that his policy was really aimed at Jews from Germany, rather than the long-established Sephardic Jews, the incident marked a turning point in the life of Lazarus. Although her family had not been turned away, the hotel's policy showed that Jews were not regarded in the same light as others in society. Lazarus later wrote to a friend that she was "perfectly conscious that this contempt and hatred underlies the general tone of the community towards us [Jews]."

Advocate for Jews

Lazarus had never made any secret about her religion, and she had often written about Jewish themes. In the 1880s, the topic of Jews and their treatment by society became her principal theme, sparked in part by a wave of organized massacres—called "pogroms"—of Jews in southern Russia. For the last eight years of her life, Lazarus became one of the leading American writers on the subject of anti-Semitism and abuse of Jews. She wrote about the subject both in popular magazines and in publications read by Jews. Lazarus was among the first writers to urge Jews fleeing persecution in Europe to go to Palestine and establish a new Jewish nation on the site of ancient Israel. The idea of establishing a separate Jewish nation later came to be called Zionism and eventually resulted in the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1947.

Lazarus also took direct action to help Jewish refugees. She visited camps set up for Jewish refugees on Ward's Island, in New York Harbor, and volunteered at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a group dedicated to assisting Jewish immigrants. Her writings led to the establishment of the Hebrew Technical Institute, designed to teach Jewish immigrants skills as mechanics. In 1883, she organized the Society for the Improvement and Colonization of East European Jews and tried to raise money from wealthy Jews in Europe to support it. After a year, the organization disbanded for lack of funds, however.

In 1883, in the midst of her work with Jews fleeing persecution in Russia, Lazarus submitted a poem as part of a fund-raising event designed to pay for the pedestal to be built under the Statue of Liberty. Earlier, France had announced that as a token of its friendship with the United States, it would donate a huge statue by sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904) to sit in New York Harbor, but it expected the United States to provide a base. The statue, which eventually became one of the most widely recognized symbols of the United States, was modeled after Bartholdi's mother (the face) and wife (the arms). In one arm, the tall figure of a woman held a tablet on which was engraved "1776," a reference to the year the Declaration of Independence, the document that declared that "all men are created equal," was signed and the United States became an independent republic ruled by the will of the people, overthrowing the rule of the British king. The other arm was holding a torch, symbolizing the freedom gained with the declaration of a republic. It was only later that the Statue of Liberty came to symbolize a beacon light for immigrants arriving from Europe.

"The New Colossus"

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

—Emma Lazarus, 1883

The title of Lazarus's poem was "The New Colossus," and her reference to "the brazen giant of Greek fame, / With conquering limbs astride from land to land" recalled the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue built on the Mediterranean island

of Rhodes in 282 b.c.e. That statue of Helios, the Greek god of the sun, stood with one foot on either side of the entrance to the harbor of the island; its size made it one of the so-called ancient wonders of the world. (An earthquake brought down the original Colossus of Rhodes fifty-six years after its construction.) In mentioning the statue, Lazarus also meant to evoke the grandeur and ideals of ancient Greece, which included the democratic form of government, in which people vote for their leaders, while at the same time reminding the reader that this statue was a "new Colossus," symbolizing the break with the ancient world represented by the United States.

Lazarus wrote the poem at a time when she had become deeply involved with the plight of Jews in Europe affected by the Russian pogroms, which had touched off a wave of Jewish immigration to the United States. At about the same time, poor, landless peasants from Italy were also starting to arrive in New York, a southern European version of the flood of Irish immigrants of the late 1840s and 1850s. It was to these arriving immigrants that Lazarus referred when she wrote of "your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…."

Although her poem would later come to be associated with the Statue of Liberty, the association did not take place in Lazarus's lifetime. The statue was erected in 1886, just one year before Lazarus died, of cancer, at age thirty-eight. The poem lay forgotten until 1903, when the last five lines were engraved on a plaque and affixed to the statue's base.

With the addition of Lazarus's poem, the Statue of Liberty took on a new meaning. Rather than a monument to the republican form of government, as intended by its original French sponsor, it became a monument to the mass wave of migration that was, in 1903, delivering an unprecedented number of Europeans onto American shores. The poem symbolized for Americans and immigrants alike the image of the United States as a refuge.

That image of the United States was not to last. Beginning in 1921, the United States passed a series of laws that made it much harder for immigrants to enter the country. A 1924 law sharply reduced immigration from Europe by restricting the number of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The same concerns that had sparked the Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s had been renewed seventy years later.

—James L. Outman

For More Information

Books

Hayden, Richard S. Restoring the Statue of Liberty: Sculpture, Structure, Symbol. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986.

Jacob, Heinrich Eduard. The World of Emma Lazarus. New York: Schocken Books, 1949.

Merriam, Eve. Emma Lazarus, Woman with a Torch. New York: Citadel Press, 1956.

Young, Bette Roth. Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1995.

Periodicals

Bodnar, John. "Symbols and Servants: Immigrant America and the Limits of Public History." Journal of American History (June 1986): p. 137.

Kleiger, Estelle F. "'I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door!'" American History Illustrated (June 1986): p. 30.

Web Sites

"Emma Lazarus, 1849–1887." Jewish Women's Archive.http://www.jwa.org/exhibits/lazarus/el1.htm (accessed on March 18, 2004).

Lazarus, Emma. "The Poems of Emma Lazarus (Volume 1: Narrative, Lyric, and Dramatic)." Project Gutenberg.http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=3295 (accessed on March 18, 2004).

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