Emma Lazarus

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Emma Lazarus
Emma Lazarus.jpg
Born (1849-07-22)July 22, 1849
New York City, New York
Died November 19, 1887(1887-11-19) (aged 38)
New York City, New York
Genre Poetry
Notable works The New Colossus

Emma Lazarus (July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887) was an American poet born in New York City.

She is best known for "The New Colossus", a sonnet written in 1883; its lines appear inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty[1] installed in 1903, a decade and a half after Lazarus's death.[2]


Lazarus was born into a large Sephardic-Ashkenazi Jewish family, the fourth of seven children of Moses Lazarus and Esther Nathan,[3] The Lazarus family was from Germany,[4] and the Nathan family was originally from Portugal and resident in New York long before the American Revolution. Lazarus's great-great grandmother on her mother's side, Grace Seixas Nathan (born in New York in 1752) was also a poet.[5] Lazarus was also related through her mother to Benjamin N. Cardozo, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.

From an early age, she studied American and British literature, as well as several languages, including German, French, and Italian. Her writings attracted the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

She was also an early admirer of Henry George, and was a part of his Single Tax movement for a number of years.[6]

Lazarus wrote her own important poems and edited many adaptations of German poems, notably those of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine.[7] She also wrote a novel and two plays in five acts, The Spagnoletto, a tragic verse drama about the titular figure and The Dance to Death, a dramatization of a German short story about the burning of Jews in Nordhausen during the Black Death.[8]

"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

Lazarus began to be more interested in her Jewish ancestry after reading the George Eliot novel Daniel Deronda, and as she heard of the Russian pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. As a result of this anti-Semitic violence, thousands of destitute Ashkenazi Jews emigrated from the Russian Pale of Settlement to New York, leading Lazarus to write articles on the subject as well as the book Songs of a Semite (1882). Lazarus began at this point to advocate on behalf of indigent Jewish refugees. She helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York to provide vocational training to assist destitute Jewish immigrants to become self-supporting.

She is best known for "The New Colossus", a sonnet written in 1883; its lines appear on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty[1] placed in 1903.[2] The sonnet was written for and donated to an auction, conducted by the "Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty" to raise funds to build the pedestal.[9][10] Lazarus' close friend Rose Hawthorne Lathrop was inspired by "The New Colossus" to found the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.[11] Lazarus is also known for her sixteen part cycle poem "Epochs".[12]

She traveled twice to Europe, first in 1883 and again from 1885 to 1887.[13] On one of those trips, Georgiana Burne-Jones, the wife of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, introduced her to William Morris at her home the Grange.[14] She returned to New York City seriously ill after her second trip and died two months later on November 19, 1887, most likely from Hodgkin's lymphoma.

She is an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. She argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Theodor Herzl began to use the term Zionism.[15] Lazarus is buried in Beth-Olom Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Emma Lazarus was honored by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President in March 2008 and her home on West 10th Street was included in a map of Women's Rights Historic Sites.[16] The Museum of Jewish Heritage featured an exhibition about Emma Lazarus in 2012.


  • Lazarus, Emma (1888). The Poems of Emma Lazarus. Houghton, Mifflin and Company. Retrieved 2008-12-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport"
  • "In Exile"
  • "The New Colossus"
  • "By the Waters of Babylon"
  • "1492"
  • "The New Year"
  • "The South"
  • "Venus of the Louvre"


  1. 1.0 1.1 Watts, Emily Stipes. The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977: 123. ISBN 0-292-76450-2
  2. 2.0 2.1 Young, Bette Roth (1997). Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. The Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0-8276-0618-4. p. 3:
  3. "Jewish Women's Archive: Emma Lazarus". Retrieved 2008-01-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/loc/Lazarus.html
  5. Schor, Esther. Emma Lazarus. Schocken, 2008.
  6. "Progress and Poverty". The New York Times. Jewish Women's Archive. 2 October 1881. p. 3. Retrieved 21 May 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |newspaper= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. The Poems of Emma Lazarus in Two Volumes, kindle ebooks ASIN B0082RVVJ2 & ASIN B0082RDHSA
  8. Charles Lowe, Henry Wilder Foote, John Hopkins Morison, Henry H. Barber, James De Normandie, Joseph Henry Allen (May 1876). The Unitarian Review. 5 https://books.google.com/books?id=rdJJAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA570&ots=pNK288t6Mx&dq=Richard%20Reinhard%20der%20tanz%20zum%20tode&pg=PA570#v=onepage&q=Richard%20Reinhard%20der%20tanz%20zum%20tode&f=false. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Young, Bette Roth (1997). Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. The Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0-8276-0618-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p. 3: Auction event named as " Lowell says poem gave the statue "a raison e'tre;" fell into obscurity; not mentioned at statue opening; Georgina Schuyler's campaign for the plaque
  10. Felder, Deborah G.; Diana L Rosen (2003). Fifty Jewish Women Who Changed the World. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2443-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> p. 45: Solicited by "William Maxwell Evert" [sic; presumably William Maxwell Evarts] Lazarus refused initially; convinced by Constance Cary Harrison
  11. "Exhibit highlights connection between Jewish poet, Catholic nun". The Tidings. Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Catholic News Service. 17 September 2010. p. 16. Retrieved 20 September 2010. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |newspaper= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Obituary in Century Magazine The Poems of Emma Lazarus in Two Volumes, kindle ebooks ASIN B0082RVVJ2 & ASIN B0082RDHSA
  13. Esther Schor, Emma Lazarus (2006)
  14. Judith Flanders, A Circle of Sisters (2001) page 186.
  15. [1] by Briana Simon (WZO Hagshama)
  16. http://www.mbpo.org/free_details.asp?ID=234

Further reading

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Lazarus, Emma". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links